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Fake ad. What does that even mean?

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Over the summer, makeup brand, Maybelline, created videos that showed giant mascara wand installations. The wands brushed giant eyelashes attached to buses and tube trains passing beneath them. The videos went viral. It created well over half a million engagements on TikTok. The installations did not exist.

It was one of several “fake ads” that have used the magic of CGI to hoodwink viewers. But is there anything wrong with that? Was the deception benign or potentially harmful? Is it cheating? Does that matter if it works? Could these kinds of stunts democratise the industry, helping smaller businesses with smaller budgets achieve more clout? Are people just annoyed because they didn’t think of it first?

First let’s acknowledge that the marketing industry as a whole isn’t a moral arbiter in any way shape or form. My first ever creative director told me how, in the 80s, they used to brush sausages with marmite to make them look suitably sizzled for photo shoots. That was deception of a far more analogue nature – but deception, nevertheless.

Over 15 years ago, Dove called out the CGI (airbrushing) practices of its own industry with this video – part of its brilliant Campaign for Real Beauty. They were raising awareness of just how fake the portrayal of women in ads often is. Models are primped, preened and then retouched to within an inch of their lives.

Yes, Dove did it to vilify competitors and sell product, but it raised an important question; what counts as benign deception and what makes a deception potentially harmful? Setting impossible beauty standards – you’d have to say that’s crossing a line. The pressure it puts on people, especially younger people, could contribute to any number of mental health issues. But faking a stunt like Maybelline, I’m not sure that’s harming anyone. Except maybe competitors – and that’s that game, isn’t it?

Fashion brand, Jacquemus, created a rather convincing video of giant handbags driving around the streets of Paris. Just like the Maybelline installation videos – these were faked with CGI. But they got shared and got people talking. These weren’t sinister manipulations, they’re examples of smart, playful and entertaining content creation. And the methodology may give organisations with smaller budgets a new way to fight the big fish. Not got £200,000 to spend on an installation? Fake it. Not got the budget for a prime location billboard? CGI it.

Industry bods may groan about it being fake, but what is real nowadays? We live in a world of AI, AR, virtual currencies, and virtual worlds. You don’t need to be able to touch things for them to be real. In an industry that’s always relied on its share of smoke and mirrors, I’m not sure this latest trend for faking stunts and installations is especially concerning.

On a completely unrelated note, you may have seen these 3D Agent animations popping up on busses around Liverpool City Centre. These animations are 100% real and were definitely not the result of our social media consultant filming buses around the city and taking panoramic shots of the surrounding areas for lighting references. Those initial videos were then absolutely not passed on to one of our 3D design wizards to work their magic on.

Nope. We’d never do anything like that. But if we did, it might look something like our latest Instagram post.

Could your company benefit from this new approach? Why not get in touch so we can discuss the possibilities?

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