Summer Silliness Brings a
Pizza Field and a Giant Oreo
New York Times
OUTDOOR advertising is a growing category — not just
billboards, but increasingly, weird publicity stunts
that often go awry.
There have been more of them than usual in recent
months. On the positive side, people seemed to like the
glass elevator in Manhattan that was done up to look
like a giant Oreo dunking into a glass of milk. A video
of the scene was
posted on YouTube, where it was drawing lots of
On the down side, people in London were not so fond
of a prank by Right Guard, which sent a team of people
onto subway trains with tiny video screens in the
armpits of their shirts. Whenever one of the team
members reached overhead, a commercial for Right Guard
would play in someone’s face.
Others examples have merely served to puzzle. A
Chevrolet billboard that used real pennies was stripped
clean within 30 minutes. In Singapore, advertisers
painted an extra yellow safety line on a train platform
with the name “Wonderbra” on it, leaving commuters to
figure out the message (that the bra’s lifting qualities
were so forceful that wearers would have to stand back).
For the most part, the silliness is intended to lift
an advertiser’s message beyond the clutter.
“Advertisers are being pushed to creative extremes,
partly because it’s just so difficult to get consumers’
attention these days,” said Pete Blackshaw, executive
vice president of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic
Services, which advises clients on managing their online
reputations. “It may just be a flash of brilliance that
everyone pays attention to, and it gets that huge
return, but it’s very difficult to replicate on a
Advertisers spent $7.3 billion on outdoor ads last
year, a rise of 7 percent from 2006, according to the
Outdoor Advertising Association of America. About 16
percent of that fell in the “alternative” category,
which covers ads that were not on billboards, bus
shelters or the like.
Alternative is a good way to describe the Right Guard
campaign staged in London last month. While Right Guard
referred to the subway stunt as “pitvertising,” bloggers
called it icky and posted cheeky speculations about what
might happen if the technique were applied to other
Despite the criticism, executives at Dial, the
subsidiary of Henkel International that owns Right
Guard, said they were pleased.
“It was one of those wacky ideas that came to
fruition: somebody said, what about putting a TV under
someone’s armpit at the point of perspiration?” said
Nina Daily, a marketing manager at Dial. “We were
obviously hopeful that the Right Guard brand would come
out in a good light, which I believe that it did.”
Other people were not so sure.
“I wouldn’t want to look under someone’s arm,” said
Brian Martin, chief executive of Brand Connections, a
New York marketing agency that did not work on the
promotion. “I don’t care whether you’re a deodorant or
not, it’s just not something a consumer’s going to go
home and feel good about.”
Sometimes stunts are too abstract to resonate with
people. That may have been the case with the Wonderbra
campaign in Singapore that ran this year: Many people
did not get it.
“This one took me a while,” said a blogger who posted
a picture of the campaign on her PhotoShelter blog.
“I don’t feel like the average consumer would fully
understand the concept behind this idea,” wrote a
commenter on the I Believe in Advertising blog.
The notion, according to the agency, Euro RSCG
Singapore, was that the second line demonstrated that
“with the bust-enhancing effects of Wonderbra, those who
use the product need to be even farther back.”
“For us, the goal was getting our foot in the door
with a new client, and this was a really fun way to do
so,” Charlie Blower, executive creative director of Euro
RSCG Singapore, said in an e-mail message. “The fact
that the core idea is quite subtle in nature means the
campaign appeals to the target audience in a
Even when stunts are well received, they do not
always go off without a hitch.
Last month Chevrolet U.K. put up a billboard in
Central London that was meant to emphasize that the new
Aveo was budget-friendly. The designers used magazine
glue to affix British pence to the background.
The company was hoping for consumer reaction, and it
got it: passers-by peeled the money off rather quickly.
“It only lasted for 30 minutes,” said Daniel Glover,
creative director of Mischief, the public relations
agency that devised the campaign. “But it kind of made
HSBC hit some snags with an outdoor campaign this
summer, when it sponsored Wimbledon. In honor of the
grass-court tennis tournament, its London advertising
agency, JWT London, commissioned grass portraits of
three little-known Wimbledon personalities, made by
artists who expose grass seeds to different amounts of
light to produce shades of green. It also decided to
cover taxis and subway stations with grass.
Grass, as it turned out, was not the most flexible
One of the portraits was of a British player, Tara
Moore, who was out of the tournament by the time her
grass portrait had grown (it takes about eight weeks).
As for covering the stations and taxis, the agency
wanted to use real grass, said Mark Norcutt, the art
director of JWT London. “But because of health and
safety, we weren’t allowed to, because people might slip
on it if it were on the floor. It got to be a bit of a
nightmare,” he said.
In the end, Mr. Norcutt went with fake grass on the
taxis and stations, and kept the portrait of the
eliminated Ms. Moore in the stadium.
“A lot of people wanted to know about the process, a
lot of people came up and touched it,” Mr. Norcutt said.
“That was part of it as well — we wanted people to
interact with it. Some were even sniffing it.”
Papa John’s, too, has been wrestling with natural
elements as it tries to create a giant pizza in a field
near the Denver airport in time for the
Democratic National Convention. The idea is to
promote its whole-wheat crust pizza.
Papa John’s hired an artist, Stan Herd, who has
created crop circles for Absolut Vodka and Beck’s beer,
among others. He devised a pizza made of pepperoni (red
mulch), onions (limestone), green peppers (cornstalks)
and olives (black mulch).
“It’s the best field location I’ve ever had,” said
Mr. Herd, who says it will take him another week to
finish. “All of the passengers at that point are all
anxious to get out, and all looking out the window, and
we’re perfectly poised to have them see something.”
If Papa John’s is lucky, its stunt will be as well
received as the one done this spring for Oreo by
Draftfcb. The agency converted a clear glass elevator in
Manhattan Mall with a giant sticker of an Oreo cookie;
on the clear vestibule in the lobby, it pasted a large
sticker of a glass of milk. Whenever the elevator
descended or ascended, it looked as if the Oreo was
being dunked in a glass of milk.
The gimmick lasted only a day, but YouTube video of
it has been viewed more than 34,000 times. Oreo, which
is owned by
Kraft Foods, said it was a one-time event.
“Out-of-home is an area that it makes sense to
explore,” said Laurie Guzzinati, a Kraft spokeswoman,
but any further plans “are all sort of T.B.D.”