Here's Why Oatly are the Uncontested Masters of OOH for Social Theatre.

Jason Papp

December 26, 2023

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PARIS - Let’s go on a journey OOH (out-of-home) with Oatly. You see, these oat-loving renegades are teaching us that OOH advertising is way more than catching the eyes of commuters, coffee-breakers, and shoppers around, let’s say, Paris and London. 

The best OOH campaigns are also ‘socials ready’ too. And real, not augmented to be staged for socials. 

Paris. Oatly - Oui? Actually it's a ‘non’. In France as a whole, the concept of pouring oat milk in your coffee is just not a thing - yet. Adding a dollop of milk foam to an espresso, yes. But oat milk? Give it a few years of masterful content from the brand’s ‘Department of Mind Control’ and even the ‘frenchest’ of French will be sipping an oat flat white and dipping their croissant in for good measure. 

As Oatly approaches its 30th anniversary, this legacy brand, known for its challenger tendencies, has recently made its foray into the French market. Heading into 2024, the brand is intensifying its focus on France, as evidenced by its recent strategic hires. A handful of talent are now on the ground in Paris and their latest OOH campaign in the city illustrates why hiring talent with a strong appreciation of cultural nuances really should matter to a brand and their agencies of choice. 

Remember, much of Oatly’s marketing is catered for in-house apart from the occasional external partner. So, Oatly’s latest OOH in Paris delicately balances their renegade approach to marketing with a nod to Parisian’s opting for artistic murals by brands rather than the conventional logo and tagline. 

Oatly says, “brands are only accepted to do murals in Paris if they are "artfully" done and without any products or logos on the wall.” 

In true Oatly style, in the event someone should doubt the artfulness of what they did, they paid a person with a master's degree in Art History to interpret their work. Well, that’s what they told us on LinkedIn anyway. 

The interpretation said, "By combining the Dadaist readymade and the Pop-art fondness for commercial objects, with modern day graffiti and moving sculptures, and then going full circle by borrowing the Neo-conceptualist use of text but turning it into an ad, the creators have managed to turn almost all the movements spawned by late modernism into a sacrilegious joke to sell oat drink. It can only be described as a form of art, I guess."

In case you were wondering, Dadaist was an art movement started around World War I and was more about the idea behind the art than the art itself. A famous example is Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (1917), which was just a regular urinal he signed and placed in an art gallery. The idea was to challenge what art could be.

And a great example of neo-conceptualist use of text is Barbara Kruger's works, like her piece "Your body is a battleground" (1989), are good examples. They use bold text to make strong statements about society, culture, and identity.

It's like they're having fun with the serious history of art and turning it into something commercial and contemporary and we are all for it. Congratulations, Oatly, you are now officially artists in your own right. 

Perhaps we’ll see the art displayed in the Tate Modern for a Turner Prize next year. 

Remember that one by Tracey Emin - ‘My Bed’ from 1998. When Tracey Emin got dumped, she didn’t get out of bed for four days. She was depressed. Then she took her dirty bed and turned it into a famous work of art. Art critics said anyone could have created an unmade bed as an art piece. Travey Emin, in response famously retorted, “Well, they didn’t, did they?” 

And I think the guys at Oatly would have the same right of reply to any critic of this ‘art’, too. 

‘My Bed’ was last sold at a Christie’s auction in London in 2014 for $3.77 million, a huge spike since it was sold to Charles Saatchi in 2000 for about $200,000.

That’s a 1785% ROI from initial purchase to its last sale price at auction, in case you were wondering. 

But back to OOH theatre and its ROI. You’ll notice each OOH muriel was painted in English, not in French. Why? Because this was just as much, or even more so, a digital marketing campaign than OOH. How many times do you think the reversing Oatly carton van, well, reversed? You get the point. This OOH was social-theatre-ready. 

And by doing this, they masterfully got around Parisian’s preference whilst teeing off a deliciously executed ad ready for the brand to flood socials with. 

You see, Oatly are incredibly effective on social media. Post something and tag them. I bet you a carton of Oatly Barista that they’ll be there to provide a witty response, each word etching their brand identity into each LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok user’s brain.

Would any of us have seen this campaign if it wasn’t for socials? Not me. 

Since Oatly debuted this OOH campaign on LinkedIn with no hashtags they’ve generated 21,749 reactions, 639 comments, 895 reposts and counting. 

And that’s just on their company page. What about all Oatly staff getting onboard and sharing the news. With all those interactions, how many people’s feeds did this muriel find its way onto? It’s hard to say. Talk about marketing effectiveness. 

Can you imagine the reach - the free reach - that this post alone created? And how many new fans across markets this made. 

Oatly’s consistency in OOH strategy, combined with driving conversations online shows they know their target audience are modern consumers who are socially active online. 

By using OOH as a trigger for online engagement, they are masterfully leading the way for other brands. 

In the cosmopolitan canvas of Paris, if you will, Oatly has orchestrated a marketing symphony, marrying OOH with the omnipresent digital sphere. This campaign isn't just a nod to traditional billboard advertising; it's a strategic choreography that dances elegantly between the tactile world of the streets and the ethereal realm of social media.

Oatly's Parisian murals, brilliant examples of creative rebellion, transcend local aesthetics, embodying a keen insight into the art of capturing attention and slicing through the 2024.

Even if it did end up being graffitied over, which got the ball rolling for TikToker Stuff About Advertising. In a 2-minute Tok that racked up 598.3K plays, 72.8K likes, and 4084 shares, the Denver-based creative director echoes the role of an art critic.

And, just as an art critic dissects and interprets the layers of meaning, intent, and impact behind a piece of art, 'Stuff About Advertising' offers a critical lens on Oatly’s Parisian stunt. Their observation highlights a crucial aspect often overlooked: the dissonance between the industry’s celebration of creativity and the actual reception by local communities. (Originally highlighted by Strategiest Kennyatta Collins.) This perspective is paramount in understanding the broader implications of OOH advertising campaigns.

In this context, Oatly's approach can be likened to the said work of Tracey Emin, her famous piece 'My Bed'.  As we’ve just discussed, Emin transformed a personal, even mundane object into a provocative work of art, challenging perceptions of what art could be. Similarly, Oatly has taken the mundane – an advertising mural – and infused it with layers of meaning and controversy, challenging traditional advertising norms. Both Emin and Oatly disrupt their respective fields, prompting discussions that transcend their immediate mediums.

This comparison raises intriguing questions: Does Oatly’s campaign, like Emin's art, redefine the boundaries of its medium? Is the measure of success the conversation and controversy it sparks, or does it also lie in the acceptance and appreciation by the audience? Emin’s work was met with both acclaim and criticism, mirroring the mixed responses to Oatly’s campaign. In this light, Oatly, much like Emin, might be seen as a provocateur, using their platform to challenge and redefine the norms of their industry.

This leads to another interesting thought: how does this strategy play into the overall effectiveness of OOH advertising? It's about more than just being 'socials ready' or generating online buzz. It's about creating a narrative that catches the eye and resonates on a deeper, more meaningful level with the audience.

It’s a blend of OOH and digital je ne sais quoi. The sheer volume of interactions with the campaign underscores its effectiveness – transcending mere advertisement to become a viral sensation.

For legacy and challenger brands touting for time in consumer’s consciousness in 2024, Oatly's strategy is a beacon. It’s a masterclass in transcending the confines of traditional advertising.

And what’s more, it was actually real, not augmented and staged for socials that seem to have been a thing in 2023. This is more than a campaign; it’s a technical drawing for the future of brand storytelling. A reaction good or bad, is a reaction nonetheless.

Oatly's deft mix of OOH and electronic tactics showcases how brands can forge compelling stories that reverberate through both tangible and virtual spaces, enthralling a global audience.

Just as the Dadaist art movement challenged what art could be, so too Oatly is challenging the essence of marketing effectiveness.

By emulating Oatly's approach, brands can effectively bridge the gap between the physical and digital, ensuring your campaigns resonate with modern, socially-active consumers and generate impressive ROI in both awareness and engagement.

Brand Marketing. Executive-level.