Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

Let's talk about Oatly in Paris.

I’m sure you’ve all seen it.

‘Oatly hacks outdoor murals in Paris stunt’.

If you haven’t, here’s a clip:

It’s all over the advertising press and LinkedIn, with glowing reviews and commentary about how ‘clever’ it is. However, as both a fan of Oatly’s work and someone who grew up in the graffiti/hip hop scene, my gut reaction was a little different to the online marketing world. My first thought was ‘that is going to get absolutely trashed’. And it appears I was I right.

I love this take from Ashley Rutstein of @stuffaboutadvertising fame. Her dissection is, from my perspective, very on point.

I’m with Ash on this one. It is, without a doubt, clever. Genius, even. But clever at what, exactly? Is it clever at positioning the product? Clever at solving potential customer’s problems? Clever at making their lives a little better? Clever at making me want to drink oat milk? Or is it just clever at being clever for the sake of being clever?

I kind feel like it’s more so the latter. And here’s why.

The problem the Oatly team were ‘solving’ here wasn’t a human problem. Or even a product or brand problem. It was an advertising problem. And the reason that advertising problem exists - well, that’s a human one. As Ash points out, the city of Paris has banned commercial advertising on walls, unless it has artistic merit. The reason for this is that the locals hate it. They don’t want it in their lives. They don’t want their walk, their lunch, their glass of pinot noir, their day to day world invaded by intrusive advertising. So, solving the human problem would be looking at it from an angle of ‘how can we creatively work within these constraints and still add to these people’s lives?’, whereas Oatly has just seen it as an advertising problem and thought ‘how can we ignore what these people want and get in their faces anyway?’

Knowing how street artists operate, and knowing a few Parisians, I knew that within hours they’d be totally trashed. (Especially if they painted over existing pieces for their stunt.) ‘But does it matter? It’s still gone viral online and that’s what matters’ some people are saying. In some cases, I’d agree, but not in this one. This campaign, according to their own press releases, was ‘to launch Oatly in France’. So, while Chad on LinkedIn might think it’s really cool, the people the brief was meant to cater for probably don’t.

As brilliant as the creative solution is, as clever as the whole forced perspective layer is, what they’ve made is just another pop-up web banner. A pretty bloody amazing one, sure, but a pop-up banner nonetheless. An innovative annoyance. Some crafty commercial pollution. In some ways, it’s anti the anti-advertising position that Oatly have so beautifully carved out for themselves. Their whole brand has been built on making ads that don’t look like ads. But instead of cutting through the clutter, this time they’ve added more where it isn’t wanted. The snake has eaten itself.

I’m a bit of an anarchist when it comes to art, so there’s absolutely a part of me that respects the ingenuity behind this piece of work. The fact we’re all talking about it deserves recognition. I just think they may have thrown all their creativity at the wrong problem this time.

In the age of ad blockers and skip buttons and mural bans, we should be using creativity to make things that people want to look at - not making them hate us more.


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