Brand Strategy

Why some brands are embracing ‘fake out-of-home’

From fashion to food brands, it seems everyone is jumping on the CGI bandwagon.
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Screenshots via @guccivault, @origiful, @sauce, @popeyes, and @maybelline on Instagram/TikTok

· 5 min read

This summer, Maybelline took over public transportation in London and New York with giant mascara wands swiping larger-than-life eyelashes at Tube stops and long, purple buses roaring down Broadway. The videos went viral, with people calling them “top notch” and “the best ad[s] ever.”

Thing is, none of it actually happened.


The videos were created for Maybelline by CGI artist Ian Padgham as part of his production company, Origiful. Padgham has worked with other brands like Burberry, Gucci, Jacquemus, and Château de Cérons on what he calls “FOOH” (pronounced faux) or fake out-of-home content.

“I’ve been copied a lot on styles I’ve created, but I’ve never had one where it’s become so popular so fast,” Padgham told us.

Brands like Adidas, Mattel, and Truff have also used CGI to create seemingly real activations for social media. In addition to creating buzz online, marketers told us that FOOH provides a way for brands to save money and test new ideas without some of the hurdles of traditional OOH.

The pros of FOOH

To celebrate the debut of its latest collaboration with Popeyes, Truff’s marketing team used CGI-created content for social posts, ranging from a The Price is Right-style wheel to a fake yacht with a giant bottle of Truff sauce on it.

The hot-sauce brand has used CGI in its posts over the years, both entirely animated, like this vending machine, and in combination with real footage, like this UFO post and Las Vegas Sphere “activation.” While Truff still does IRL OOH campaigns, Director of Marketing Michelle Gabe said the team sees CGI as a way to entertain its audience.

Nick Guillen, co-founder of Truff, told us that it’s also about brand building. He added that “the interesting thing about out-of-home is it all comes back to the internet,” with people taking photos of OOH activations and posting them online. Blending CGI with actual footage, he said, is like “almost hacking the actual execution of doing this in real life.”

According to Guillen, that means not having to “spend a bunch of money on running a yacht and wrapping it in Truff and Popeyes branding,” as well as being able to create content faster and more efficiently than going out to stage, produce, and film something.

“If you create this hybrid approach of mixing real footage with amazing editing and VFX and CGI, you could do anything,” he said.

The key to a CGI post performing well, Guillen said, is when it toes the line of being out there but just realistic enough. It’s something that Padgham emphasized in a behind-the-scenes video of his Maybelline work, where he shows the ideas that didn’t quite strike that balance. Ideally, he said, only about 10% of the video should be 3D animation.

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Fernando Febres, VP of marketing at Maybelline New York, told us part of the goal of the Maybelline videos was to generate conversation based on whether the videos were real. In addition to going viral, he said Maybelline received inquiries about which experiential agency it used. The experience, he said, showed the potential and scalability for future global campaigns based in CGI.

With FOOH campaigns, Padgham said clients can test OOH ideas before investing large amounts of money in them: “If it takes off, nothing prevents them from going out and doing it,” he said.

When asked if Maybelline plans to make its latest FOOH real, Febres said the bus would be “a little hard to execute,” though he did note the brand received comments from people wanting to come to New York to ride it.

Gray areas

When he first started making FOOH videos, Padgham said tourists visiting Bordeaux were hoping to ride the wine-bottle tram he animated for Château de Cérons. “The intention wasn’t to dupe people or to make fake news, it was more like, ‘Hey, what would be the ideal world?’” he said.

But this type of advertising could raise questions similar to those around AI regarding when (and how) brands should disclose if something is fake. Some brands have found ways to acknowledge it: For instance, Febres said Maybelline winked at the use of CGI in comments.

Truff has taken a slightly different approach. “We just let the internet do its thing,” Guillen said.

Screenshot via Maybelline New York/TikTok

Given that CGI can erase certain boundaries, there are also questions around which ones brands can cross: British Airways was criticized this year for posting an image that appeared to show a billboard at Glastonbury, where such ads are limited. Another British company, GymBox, also recently received pushback for a FOOH campaign depicting ads on top of buses in London, which would have been the first of its kind.

Padgham said he often talks to brands about the importance of not trying to convince audiences that something is real when it’s not. “That always backfires because then people just feel let down,” he said. “I think the idea is to find that fine line of sparking people with a sense of charm and imagination that’s like, ‘Okay, this isn’t real. But it would be cool if it was.’”

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