Bravo Media’s David Title Talks About The Merits And Perils Of Ad Stunts like Fake And Faux DOOH Ads

August 29, 2023 by Dave Haynes

We’ve seen a noticeable rise in the last couple of years of visual illusions and other trickery on big digital OOH screens and other surfaces presented as real screens, when they’re not.

There’s enough of it that observers have started giving it names, like virtual out of home, Fake DOOH or the one I like – Faux DOOH. Arguably,  the most notable ones involve Dubai landmarks – a giant, empty picture frame in that city turned into an Adidas billboard celebrating Lionel Messi’s World Cup win. Or a giant Barbie taking a step in a plaza, with the Burj skyscraper looming in the immediate background.

They’re fun and noteworthy, but if people got in their cars to go have a look in person, they’d be disappointed, because they’re totally computer-based compositions overlaid on surfaces that don’t have screens. And it absolutely happens.

David Title of the New York creative technology shop Bravo Media goes back and forth with me a lot about this stuff, on social media.  While we both have a problem with CGI creative presented as real when it isn’t, we have differing opinions on its validity and value.

In this podcast, we get into what’s going on, how it is done, the good and the bad, and interesting things like the legal implications of running a Faux DOOH ad overlaid on a real screen that the media owner otherwise sells. It’s a fun half-hour.

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David, thank you for joining me. We’ve chatted once before, but that was in your office in New York. Can you give me a rundown of what Bravo Media does, first of all? 

David Title: Sure. Bravo is a creative production studio with a very sort of direct focus on real-world, real-time experience, and for us, that sort of splits almost down the middle between working on events across trade shows, conferences, activations, launches and then working on projects within the built environment around corporate environments and retail display and hospitality and immersive attraction and combining the world of visual content animation 2D and 3D modeling video along with interactive development and design.

Would you liken yourself more to an agency or like a solutions provider because, I know, a lot of the stuff you do involves some hardware as well, like you’ve gotta figure that part out?

David Title: Yeah, we straddle a lot of those traditional titles. We work with agencies quite often to help them execute projects that they have developed with their clients.

We also work directly with clients across a lot of areas, especially in the B2B space, on projects in which we’re helping from ideation right through delivery. And on the hardware side, we really partner across the board with folks in the AV and hardware space. From LED providers, integrators, manufacturers, and all those folks have to come together.

The thing that’s so challenging and exciting about the idea of experiential marketing is that it does require a swath of people with different specialties, and any place that’s saying they were doing it alone is either lying or doing it badly. 

I know it’s always difficult to talk about projects that you’ve worked on because a lot of your customers don’t allow you to say anything. But are there ones that you can provide references that people might be familiar with? 

David Title: Sure. I think a couple of things that have been fun for us that are out in the public eye; I know NFL season is starting up again shortly, and we got to work on a pretty exciting project as they were building out the new NFL Broadcast Studios, network Studios next to SoFi Stadium.

And we helped create this pretty phenomenal piece of the studio called the Duke, which is half of a giant extruded glass and metal football, but each pane of glass is actually reactive. So it can go from opaque to transparent in a microsecond and then fully projection mapped. So, we’re able to go from this clear display that people walking behind it can see through to the show floor and turn it into a full-fledged display for on-air graphics. That was a really fun piece to collaborate with some really excellent folks across the space, and it’s fun to see it on TV and see the differences in how it’s been used over the last couple of years.

You also did that QSR in Times Square. Are you allowed to talk about that one?

David Title: The Revlon Spot?

I’m thinking of donuts.

David Title: Oh, yeah. We did the Krispy Kreme experience for Times Square, sort of flagship for Krispy Kreme.

Okay. So you can talk about that.

David Title: We can talk about that a little bit. We created the Donut Theater Experience, and part of the fun of that shop is that, as you’re waiting in line for your donuts, you’re standing watching their fully automated sort of donut production line do its magic tricks. We enhanced that with a whole bunch of projections, including projecting on their glaze waterfall and making tracked projections onto donuts, which required creating a piece of software called ‘Is that a donut,’ which is fun to use in other projects and the whole integrated system of little shows that happen throughout the day, showcase that space. 

Interesting. I’m finally getting back to New York in a couple of months. Go down there and see as much as I try to avoid Times Square, but it’s been a while, so I should go. 

David Title: I gotta say, in terms of digital out-of-home, there’s definitely been a sort of explosion of really gigantic displays now in Times Square.

We’ve got that big TSX board now with the stage doors that SNA put in that I walk past almost every morning on my way to work. I cut very quickly through Times Square to get to the other side.

Zigzag around the tourists, although it’s probably not the first thing in the morning as much.

David Title: It’s amazing how early they get out there. Sleep in.

Alright, so we’re mentioning Times Square. The reason that we wanted to have a chat was to talk about the emergence and somewhat the explosion of, first of all, anamorphic video or visual illusions on these big LED boards. But, more to the point, these visual illusions that don’t actually exist are being developed by brands using CGI artists and everything else and being presented as the real deal in some cases or being assumed as the real deal.

And I have a problem with those instances which are frequent when stuff gets put up on LinkedIn or Twitter or other social media channels saying, ‘Look at this amazing thing in Dubai or wherever, or one of the most recent ones was this giant, I don’t know how tall it was. Purported to be like an 80-foot-tall Barbie near the Burj Khalifa. And people are going, oh my God, I have to see that, and I was going on LinkedIn saying it’s not actually real. It’s just a CGI thing, guys, and I think that’s problematic. We’ve gone back and forth with this, and you said it’s actually pretty interesting and opportune.

So, what’s your perspective on it? 

David Title: I think it’s interesting you bring up the anamorphic, quote-unquote, 3D displays that have been happening on a lot of billboards around the world. And in some ways, that kind of started this whole discussion because one thing that we both saw in a lot of people on LinkedIn and other places like Instagram and Twitter, that there was a mix of actual footage taken on the street of these displays from that perfect viewing angle. And they looked really cool and really amazing, and then, there were a number of comps that are CGI artists creating content that is superimposed onto video of those same billboards. Sometimes, they do really well, and sometimes, with less viability, as they leave the frame of the billboard and things like that.

In some cases, it is being used by manufacturers and resellers claiming to have 3D billboards or 3D LEDs, which is very misrepresentative and super problematic. I think across the industry, for everybody, it creates false expectations and limits your ability to show off what actually is cool and impossible.

And I think it just creates a negative connotation across the board, and at the same time, of course, like at Bravo, because we create a lot of original experiences. We create a lot of comps for our clients all the time as a way to help explain and understand how something’s gonna look.

We use it as part of our design process, part of our creative process, and the next iteration of that, and honestly, the first one of these that I remember being in that space between a fake that many people thought was real. The Soho Zara storefront, which was, again, a really well-crafted fantasy comp, which, if for no other reason than once it was completed, the space seemed to have no doors, which is problematic for retail. I think if you have a really killer window display and nobody can get in it, it’s a little self-defeating.

There were plenty of other reasons why it was impossible. The artist that created it, I don’t think, created it with any intent to make people think it was real. That same artist has done plenty of other pieces similar to this and has a history of these sorts of works.

But Zara did post it on their own Instagram without saying it wasn’t real, and I know people that went down there to see the store. People that I thought were smarter than that, to be honest. But I get it. You get wrapped up, you get excited, and I think the beauty of these sorts of comps and fantasy installations is that they are super inspirational, and they are exciting, and they’re really fun.

And then you got to this next level. I think over the last six or seven months, the biggest ones that I think people saw and some people bought into, and some didn’t, but all were put out there without a direct statement that they weren’t real. There was a big Argentina billboard after the World Cup. There was the French bag company that I won’t pronounce properly, that started with a ‘J’ that made handbag cars that drove around Paris which looked great. Maybelline did a mascara thing on subways and buses that looked like they had giant eyelashes, and then I think the one that really went super viral was that Barbie piece that you were talking about.

And the coach had a fun piece for their new coach Topia popup, which also a number of people thought was real, and clearly, they’ve never tried to get anything past a permitting board in New York City because that wasn’t going to happen.

One of the people on LinkedIn said, “You should go down and check it out”, and I challenged him, I said, where are they gonna check out? That’s a comp, it’s an AR thing. 

David Title: Yeah, and it’s super fun. I think what’s exciting about it from our perspective is that, first of all, I don’t think there’s any value or any point in anyone involved in these projects directly and saying, “Hey, This is real when it’s not.”

Is there a responsibility to do something somewhere out there that loudly says, this isn’t real? I don’t know. They don’t say that on The Fast and the Furious. But I don’t know, cars in outer space. Oh, I guess that’s Tesla’s outer space. But anyway. But you know what it allows for one is it allows even small brands, challenger brands, and not-for-profits to create the experience of their dreams and realize it at a fraction of the cost of executing it in the real world. And with out-of-home in general, obviously, you’re first buying for those views on the street.

But the bonus for out-of-home is if your content is so good that it gets picked up and shared on the internet and across social media and picked up by the news. When that happens, it’s a massive boost, and so if you look at these current virtual digital out-of-home campaigns, you’re not getting those street views, but you’re getting an exponentially higher number of impressions through social media. So, I think in that way, it’s such an exciting way to explore what’s possible and also to play around with reality. And, if you watch those handbags driving around Paris, and it feels real, and it looks real, then that’s a great experience for you to have watching it.

And the fact that it was synthesized doesn’t make it any less fun or engaging than Fast and the Furious. 

Does it matter if it’s not technically possible or incredibly expensive to do? If you did wanna make it possible? I’m thinking of some of the anamorphic illusions, where the physics doesn’t work; the visual is escaping well beyond the borders of the display. To me, that’s more problematic. 

David Title: To some degree. Again, I think most of those that I’ve seen start with somebody claiming it to be a real thing and that they have some special product that does it, and that I have a real problem with. 

The other question and this is probably more controversial, but on video, in theory, Brand Z could virtually take over every billboard in Times Square and pay nothing to the owners of those displays as far as I know. I don’t know if those laws have been written.

Yeah, I think you’re right. Ocean Outdoor is a big UK digital at-home media company. Big media owner has the big ass display right in Piccadilly Square or the circus, pardon me, and they put out something recently saying, yeah, we do have a problem with this because you have companies who are appropriating our media space and presenting it as something that they booked and ran on it when they didn’t. 

David Title: And that’s an interesting question. Because, in theory, what they’re selling is digital out-of-home, and what I’ve done is made a video of the surroundings. And then, can I do a video where I put lipstick in a funny hat on the Statue of Liberty?

Or can I make it look like the Lincoln Memorial has been dressed up for the circus? 

Oh, Lord. 

David Title: There’s always been a history of advertising stunts. Some of which have been more moral or ethical. Burger King did an AR takeover where it turned their competitors’ logos and things on fire.

So you’d point your phone in the McDonald’s outlet, and it would be flame-broiled or whatever. I can’t remember exactly how it operated, but they impacted their competitors. And again, I’m like, I opted into that. Is that Avaya? Probably some interesting court cases are coming, I would guess.

Or some, at least starting with some cease and desist letters, maybe. 

Yeah, you live in a very litigious country, and I wonder about those graphic artists, particularly if they’re commissioned by a, let’s say, a fashion chain or whatever to do something.

And they create a piece on a building that doesn’t even have a display on them. Some commercial property company has, and they see that and are gonna stick their lawyers on them and say, guys, you’re using my building as an out-of-home media display. 

David Title: I would counter that when a movie shoots in a city, every building in that shot is part of the scenery that I’m using in my movie. They’re not getting paid.

Let’s see what happens. You just gave some lawyer an idea.

David Title: I know. I hate that. That was not the point of this conversation, Dave.

The point of this conversation was to inspire people to get excited about virtual digital out-of-home and see the possibility. But what I think is fun about it and, again, moving even beyond and creating virtual billboards or virtual content onto real billboards are some of the larger, more imaginative things you can do.

The coach piece the Maybelline piece, and even, to some degree, the Barbie piece, which honestly was so clearly CGI that I don’t really feel like anybody can be upset that they were trying to be fooled. Come on, it’s an 80-foot woman with no nothing behind her.

Yeah, I think the Dubai frame one with Leonard Messi was more convincing to a whole bunch of people.

David Title: Yeah, it was; I got phone calls asking how they did it, and…

You said they didn’t.

David Title: I said they didn’t. They did. That’s the fun of it.

And also, the whole thing with all these things are the ones that really are successful because they look great, they’re a really fun idea, they inspire a level of enjoyment and engagement. It’s good advertising, and I think the few people who feel slightly tricked by it don’t really cause a negative brand impact.

Whoever owns the Dubai frame, whether that’s a municipal thing or a private entity or whatever it may be, should they be paid for that usage? 

David Title: Yeah, it’s a good question, and at what level? And by what metric? and I don’t know what the line for that is.

People take videos in Times Square all the time and alter things and change things and post them on their feeds, where is it artistic expression? What am I allowed to do? Because it looks cool and fun 

When you have something like the ZARA Store or the Adidas Lionel Messy thing in Dubai. Those aren’t cheap to produce to do them well, as you were saying. Does it tend to be the brands that are commissioning these things? Or do you have CGI artists like Shane Fu, who did the ZARA thing, just doing this for giggles? 

David Title: I think there’s a mix.

I think we’re certainly currently working with a handful of clients on, essentially, virtual, out-of-home campaign concepts. These are clients that would never have the budgets to do these things for real but do have the budgets to create the virtual version in a satisfying manner.

And it really allows them to express themselves in ways and to create experiences in ways that are new and exciting and get attention. 

Yeah. Does this stuff have a shelf life to it? And I guess what I’m wondering is right now, there’s not that many of them increasing numbers certainly, but it’s still pretty new. At some point, if you have a whole bunch of brands doing this, does it become an arms race where you somehow there have to be a little bit more outlandish? Otherwise, it’s just like wallpaper, like other, more conventional digital signers displays and digital out of home displays.

David Title: I think, not unlike the anamorphic content, I think that it’s partly a trend. When it’s done really well, and if you’re going to go with an anamorphic display, it really helps to have a good reason to be doing it beyond; I want it to look 3D, right?

And the best anamorphic pieces we’ve seen are really clever in the way that they take advantage of the illusion, and it’s really satisfying, and I think that’s gonna be the challenge. It’s not so outlandish. I think it’s gonna be cleverness and integration and in the same way that it would be true for any kind of real-world activation.

I don’t think that Maybelline’s gonna get the same pop out by putting lipstick on a Volkswagen after doing the mascara on the buses. But I think there’s another channel they could explore to find another hit of attention.

Yeah. As some of the 3D displays that I’ve seen are just videos mainly, a watch, the face kind of escapes the screen a little bit, or somebody walks up and peers out over the edge of the screen down into the crowd or whatever, they’re clever, but I really wonder how much impact they have.

David Title: Yeah. Honestly, I think with any of these anamorphic, you, on the one hand, you’ve gotta be losing a certain number of impressions because it simply doesn’t make the impression, a valuable impression from a lot of angles. But it makes a really big impression from the right angle.

Which is a very narrow-angle typically. 

David Title: Although there are so many of these right now in New York, and I do think folks are beginning to understand how to make things that have a slightly better and wider viewing angle by just not pushing the 3D illusion quite as deep.

You can get away with it a little better, but obviously, a big hope for doing these 3D boards is that somebody is filming them and sharing them, or the client is doing that and getting that extra engagement through social media. I think, again, it loses its amazing value for just being seemingly 3D.

And now we’re into the second wave of this, where it actually has to be smart, interesting, and relevant, and all the things that good marketing and good advertising have to be successful regardless of the channel that you’re using. 

Yeah, I was over in Germany at a conference about a month and a half ago, and one of the presentations was from Ocean Outdoor, the UK Media firm.

They’re in some other countries as well, and they were talking about 3D projects like that, and one of ’em was in a shopping mall in Denmark, and then I asked them, Specifically, did you guys shoot this and socialize it out of your own channels to make sure that you had a really good, perfectly positioned camera angle on this?

And you used that to amplify it because I wrote a piece about that one in particular. ’cause some consumers shot it from an off angle, and you could see how crappy it looked. 

David Title: Yeah. I remember when they first started popping up before I saw my first one in New York. I was literally on LinkedIn begging people who live nearby to shoot at any of those from an off-angle.

Just so people would understand. Not again; this is nothing. I think it’s cool as hell. I really love that we make anamorphic content. I think it’s really cool. I love optical illusions in general. We have a long history at Bravo of projection mapping, which is all about optical illusion.

Because I love triggering the brain without any magical technology. It’s just the beauty of how our brains work in perspectives, and it’s great. Super cool. But, it really matters for people who are looking to utilize any of these technologies. We’re. Obviously, we’re almost at the end here, so I’m not gonna mention the H word, ‘Holograms.’

Oh, go ahead. 

David Title: Holograms. There aren’t any, but It’s important that people understand what the abilities and limitations of each of these platforms are so that you can utilize them to their best effect. They’re all cool. Pepper’s Ghost is cool, and Amorphic is cool. I think virtual digital out-of-home is cool, but it can all be terrible, really easy if it’s not used right.

Yeah. Sometimes, the best application is not the one with the most whizz banger about it. It’s just right for the environment, and I think of what you were talking about with projection mapping. I love jobs where the projection mapping is very subtle, and it just appears on a wall in an unexpected way, and it’s not flashy or anything else.

It’s just, oh, where’d that come from? It makes you look.

David Title: I think the whole notion in the video game world, there’s this history of Easter eggs. These sorts of things are hidden within the game that are special if you look or if you stumble upon them, and I really think so.

Within the whole world of experiential marketing and out of home, those little moments of discovery can be so powerful and so meaningful, and I totally agree. The relevancy and meaningfulness and relationship to the environment and all those things are really what makes something effective.

It’s not necessarily the biggest, loudest, flashiest thing. 

The stuff that was done for Coachtopia with this giant Rube Goldberg machine spitting out handbags off the side of the building. Is that a more viable way to do augmented reality? ’cause I’ve always wondered what percentage of the population is going to reliably view the outside world through their six-inch smartphone screen.

David Title: Yeah. Again, I think with a lot of the AR stuff in general, one of my favorite clients from back in the day, a woman named Bernadette Castro, used to just always ask me, no matter what we were gonna do for us.

She’d say, I don’t know, David, is the juice worth the squeeze? And I love that, and I think about it all the time, and I think with AR, you’re asking people to go through this extra step, and the juice has to be worth the squeeze, and again, if it reveals something that’s interesting and meaningful and relevant and rewards you in some way for that participation, then I think people will do it.

But I think a lot of AR projects go largely unviewed. Because they’re just not worth the lift. 

Yeah, and it’s a little bit of eye candy that people look at and go. That was fun. But they’ll give it 10 seconds, and that’s it. 

David Title: Yeah. It’s getting more viable.

Web AR is getting better, meaning that you’re not downloading an app; you’re not going through all that rigmarole. The other thing is you’re still relying on available bandwidth wherever you’re standing, and at least in the US, that can often not be enough.

And that’s a larger issue with all the AR stuff and all of the digital extensions to outta home, is the cooler that experience wants to be, the more bandwidth it’s going to require, and that’s not always available. 

Last question. I’m curious if all this stuff that’s been emerging is leading to new business because people come to you saying, we’d like to do this, and you have to tell ’em what they did at the Zara store isn’t really possible because you need a door to get into the store. But does it open up new conversations and new opportunities? 

David Title: Oh, absolutely, and honestly, we spend so much of our time just educating, and for us, it’s been really important from the beginning.

I don’t sell any particular hardware, and I don’t have stock in any particular platform. So, for us, being able to understand and communicate the opportunities with projection mapping versus LED versus LCD or the conversation I had yesterday with a client about the giant refrigerators.

I call them shower stalls.

David Title: Yeah. I just always think everyone looks; everyone has to be very cold. But I don’t sell those directly. I think there’s a place for all these things, but what we really love is to have that opportunity to share all of these cool opportunities that are out there and to really help our clients select the solution that’s really gonna move the dials for them, that they need to move.

Yeah, figure out the problem as opposed to, how can I use this thing? 

David Title: Right. Because nobody cares what the thing is when they’re having the experience. All they care about is the experience, and if you can do that experience with a $10 piece of something and it’s powerful and meaningful, then you should do that, not do the $10,000 one, if it’s not as good a fit. 

Yeah, a $200 Pico projector and not the $200,000 video wall. 

David Title: Again, there’s a time and a place for all of these things, and it really is about understanding what you’re trying to do first, like you said, and then finding the solutions that are out there.

All right, David, thank you. That was a lot of fun. 

David Title: Yeah. I really appreciate it. That was great.

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