FOOH (and John Holmes)

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The inspiration for this post on FOOH (fake out of home advertising) was Ryan Wallman’s marketing predictions for 2024 on LinkedIn. In particular two of his five predictions

2. Someone will post a viral ad that is a) fake and b) terrible. Hundreds of people will comment: ‘Genius!”

5. Marketers will try to emulate the success of Barbie but will completely misconstrue its relevance to their brand, culminating in a series of fucking stupid and totally unsuccessful stunts.

Ryan Wallman

As with many marketing predictions, they are equally applicable for 2023 as well as next year (and probably several years on).

These two particularly resonated with me, due to the current trend of FOOH. This is where a creative agency has put together photography or video showing an out of home execution that doesn’t exist.

These aren’t concepts that have been mocked up for a client to show them how indicate how their campaign would look when activated. Or as a creative calling card by an agency or team to catch the eye of a new client a la the famous Volkswagen Polo car bomb advert which leaked out on to the general public.

Instead, they are created with the express intent with fooling a good deal of the public that the execution is real. In the case of Maybelline, it was pushed out on third party influencer accounts on TikTok and YouTube as ‘truth’.

Other examples

The Popeyes and Truff collaboration campaign can be seen here. British Airways mocked up a billboard at the Glastonbury festival, but wouldn’t have been able to buy the space even if it wanted to.

The Independent were fooled by Jacquemus with these FOOH-ed giant handbags. It is particularly interesting that a mainstream news media channel was fooled.

And I find that troubling for a number of reasons. And let’s illustrate this through a quick thought experiment.

The John Holmes thought experiment

You probably don’t know me, I am an overweight white male with a shaven head and distinctly average in every physical way.

A quick John Holmes primer

John C Holmes via Wikipedia

The late Mr Holmes was taller than me. He was an army veteran and then worked a number of blue collar jobs from ambulance driver to factory worker and forklift truck driver. He eventually hit a patch of unemployment and agreed to do nude modeling and appear in pornographic films. At the time these films were closely linked with organised crime in the US. Times things changed. During the early 1970s the industry saw a golden age where porn films became mainstream culture. Roger Ebert reviewed these films for the Chicago Sun-Times and his peers did similar at the likes of the New York Times.

Holmes became a popular culture figure and his name spread far wider than the viewership of his films. Mark Wahlberg’s character in Boogie Nights is heavily influnced by John Holmes. He was famous for his penis size.

For the latter part of his adult life he was an addict, which affected his ability to work. The movie Wonderland dramatises a low point in Holmes life and his association with murder of the Wonderland drug gang.

Back to the thought experiment

By some strange incident, a video of me stepping out of the shower and then putting a towel happens to be made. A creative chum decides to make lemonade from these lemons and uses <insert generative AI video tool du jour here> to create a realistic looking, but fake, appendage.

Nothing has changed, I am still as I introduced myself earlier, distinctly average in every physical way. Then I add it to a dating profile. In my opinion it would be both unedifying and distinctly dishonest. This is what brands are doing when they create FOOH campaigns to generate social currency (virality, talkability etc).


These videos and photos are demonstrations of creative craft and creativity, but good judgement asks not only can something be done, but should it be done. It’s often not part of an ad format that makes it clear that the image isn’t ‘real’ and there is no ‘wink-wink’ moment to bring the audience in on the truth. This isn’t ‘truth well-told’ as advertising as McCann the advertising agency would have put it.

Brands step across the line of believability, inevitably letting consumers down.

Authenticity vs. fakery

While FOOH showcases the incredible capabilities of CGI and digital storytelling, so do 3D digital billboards. 3D billboards do it in a more honest, authentic and entertaining way. The Air Max Day billboard campaign in Tokyo would be genuinely memorable, creating a sense of wonder and generate talkability.

By comparison FOOH is a fiction cosplaying as reality. FOOH raises questions about the authenticity of the brand experience itself. Advertisers push the boundaries of what is possible with a minimum spend. These simulations of awe-inspiring moments dilute the credible real-life experiences we’ve come to appreciate. Authenticity is a pivotal factor in establishing trust between a brand and its audience. What does it say about the brand as a corporate citizen, when they are normalising fraud, lies and astro-turfing on social platforms? We have enough problems in the media eco-system already, without brands making it worse. FOOH can be seen as a manifestation of brand sociopathy.

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