This Ad Is Real (And This Story Is Too)

This Ad Is Real (And This Story Is Too)

Advertising campaign hopes to inspire advertisers to take a second look at old-school modes.

You’ve probably seen the cryptic ads proclaiming “THIS AD IS REAL.”

The phrase is plastered across billboards, on the sides of buses, benches and transit shelters. The source of the head-scratching ads is the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). The goal? To tap into a problem that media buyers—those who purchase ads for a brand—are facing.

Digital advertising is booming, but over 50 percent of online ads are “non-viewable,” according to OAAA. In other words, they’re seen by bots or are completely invisible to the consumer because of ad-block software. That’s money down the drain.

OAAA’s solution is, of course, self-serving: They want advertisers to focus on billboards and other marketing platforms, which they call “real.”

“It’s really important for brands to have one foot firmly planted in reality to engage their customer base,” says Matt Dowshen, president of New York-based agency PNYC, which created the campaign for OAAA.

Dowshen cites a sign that said “BECK!” which his agency put up in its window. Kanye West was performing outside and had recently snubbed Beck at the Grammys by storming the stage. Images of the sign went viral and received 18.4 million online media impressions. Dowshen says that proves that out-of-home advertising has reach that can drive traffic to digital channels.

While local agencies have taken notice of the campaign, they’re not all convinced it’s effective. Minneapolis agency Fallon was the target of one billboard that called them out by name.


Fallon media director Niki Dobratz uses digital and outdoor differently (outdoor for spreading general awareness), but she doesn’t understand why outdoor advertisers are piling on digital advertising. “I find it odd that they would position outdoor against digital,” she said. “Digital isn’t stealing ad dollars from the outdoor industry. Also, outdoor spending is actually up, so why run a campaign that seems a little desperate?”

Dobratz has another issue: The ad’s placement.

“Our board was on the side of our building that gets no foot traffic, isn’t seen by most of the ramps our people park in and isn’t in the direction of the majority of commuters,” she says. “If you’re going to run a campaign that calls out agencies by name, the most important thing is to make sure you buy the right location.”