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Printing News From Around the World: The Obay Ad Campaign

Running a successful two-part ad campaign.

The streets of major Canadian cities were buzzing this week with speculation over a new viral print ad campaign. Banner printing and poster printing is being used to advertising a hot new 'pharmaceutical product' known as 'Obay.'

The ads spoof similar campaigns promoting new drugs that claim to solve all of life's problems. The full color print ads can be seen mostly on bus stops and on buses, boasting tongue-in-cheek taglines like “My son had ideas of his own. Obay put a stop to that.”


Obay is apparently geared towards parents who don't want their kids starting to think for themselves. A knock at medications for ADD? At the advertising industry in general? Or maybe subversive public art – we have, after all, seen the term 'obey' used before, under its more conventional spelling, in the 'Obey Giant' street art campaign.

No one knew the truth. At first. Which made it interesting.

The internet rumor-mill is saying that this is just phase one of a larger full color print advertising campaign, and that phase two will be launched within a few weeks. Due to the city-sanctioned placing of the print designs, it seemed more likely that the campaign would prove to be a clever case of viral marketing than an act of street art subversion.

And so it was. As of today, we know that the campaign is being run by a post-secondary advocacy organization called Colleges Ontario. And there, in the revealed subject matters, lies the trouble with the two-part ad.

Part one of such campaigns, as we see here, is usually viral. A set of interesting full color print designs with no obvious commercial affiliation is good at generating its own hype. And the slightly challenging, obviously socially critical nature of the ads brings to mind all kinds of associations and topics to generate lively discussion, or as its better known in technical circles, “buzz.”

The problem with this type of gimmick usually start in part two, because part two – the big reveal – ends up being kind of lame (like the Checker's rap cat) or boring (like – sorry – Ontario colleges).

To be fair, if you're doing your job right, few products, services, or events can hope to live up to the hype created by part one. Often, culture-savvy viewers feel that they've been somehow tricked or taken in by a product they don't endorse. For the advertiser, there are only two ways out of this tight spot:

1 – Keep part two as interesting, shocking, or funny as part one (the challenge being doing this without compromising your brand).

2 – Pray that part one had enough style and entertainment value that it goes on to maintain its celebrity independent of the larger campaign.

In an attempt to combat the almost inevitable letdown quality of phase two, campaigns will often switch mediums. Who knows? Maybe part two of the Obay campaign with be on TV or online. However, for advertisers making this transition, it's important to keep the design consistent across mediums. If part two doesn't immediately evoke part one, then you've wasted your time. Hopefully, the ads under the lens today will do this without actually saying, “Hey! Remember those Obay print ads? Well, here's the big follow-up!”

Marketing agencies in Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have had great success running these two-part print campaigns across the country. Have you seen any good ones in your city? Let us know about them!

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