There is no such thing as intrusive advertising so long as advertisers provide great content to consumers — and in the case of a new Forever 21 billboard ad, consumers are the content.
Here’s how the ad works: pedestrians strolling through Times Square in New York notice a mirror reflection of themselves projected on a giant interactive billboard above the recently opened Forever 21 clothing retail store. We can wave at ourselves onscreen and do all the other impulsively silly things that pedestrians like to do when we stop and gawk. And then the fun really begins: a model appears on the billboard and appears to pluck one of pedestrians off the street. The model kisses the digital image of the pedestrian, tosses the person back into the crowd, or places him or her in a shopping bag. Other times, the model takes a Polaroid snapshot of pedestrians and waves it to everyone watching from the street — a snapshot of us.
I “saw” (or rather experienced) the ad myself by happenstance June 30 as I was walking on Broadway. What I noticed first were the smiling people jamming the sidewalk, with their fingers pointing upward. Even though I was in a rush, I just had to stop what I was doing and find out what had captured everyone’s interest. I quickly found myself being entertained like everyone else. I did not feel like I was staring at an ad even though I was. And yes, I looked for my own tiny image projected amid the “digital crowd” high above Times Square. I even shamelessly waved and wondered if I might be one of the lucky people who would be slipped into a shopping bag.
The ad works because it is, quite simply, fun. The ad also reminds me of how a good movie comedy creates a communal experience among strangers gathered temporarily in one place. Somehow I don’t think the ad would be as fun if I were all by myself on a deserted road. In the context of Times Square, though, the ad feeds off the energy of the crowd and, in turn, energizes us. Really part of the fun is watching others beside you on a crowded sidewalk experience the same realization you just had: the initial puzzlement and curiosity etched on the face of a jaded business person or tourist, the upward gaze, the expression of surprise as we realize the image we are watching is us, and then the laughter when the model onscreen starts to engage with us. You can read more about it in Fast Company.
How many ads have you seen that literally stop traffic and make people wave happily at the sky? Kudos to agency space150 and to designer Chris O’Shea, whose his own Hand from Above project in London inspired the work.