This Two-Person Agency Spent $10,000 on Blank Ad Space

This time of year, agency holiday cards seek to one-up each other with clever (and self-promotional) ways to wish clients and audiences happy holidays. These greetings take just about every form you can think of, from humorous t-shirts to comfy sweaters and scarfs.

This year, one agency decided to forego these festivities and offer local audiences nothing instead. More specifically, Halifax agency Wunder decided to give people a break from ads by purchasing $10,000 worth of blank ad space.

We caught up with the founders of the two-person shop, creative director Stephen Flynn and director of innovation Mike Postma, to discuss their “White Christmas” stunt.

Adweek: What led to the idea to gift people blank ads for the holidays? Whose idea was it?

Flynn: We’re a new agency so it was a way for us to get our name out there and join in the festivities … forcing ourselves to come up with something that was two pronged: in terms of giving something to the general public and to get some positive press around the holidays.

Postma: We just kind of came up with it together in a brainstorming sessions. We were going back and forth on this idea of if an ad agency was going to give back to the community what would they do? What would the thing be that you would really not expect to be coming from an ad agency? We came down to: Well, not an ad. You would never expect them to not do an ad of any kind. That’s the idea that stuck and then the visual in our heads was a completely blank billboard.

Which mediums did this run across?

“As an agency it’s our job to try to push through noise and make things people want to engage with and don’t want to skip. This was kind of a commentary on that.”
Stephen Flynn, cd, Wunder

Flynn: We bought billboards, bus shelters, the sides of buses, a full-page newspaper ad and we extended the campaign to run on social as well: Instagram ads, YouTube pre-roll and Facebook ads. The physical out-of-home installations felt like a real-life ad-block, whereas we wanted to extend that to platforms where you couldn’t really ad-block as well.

Postma: We also decided to try to do a radio ad. The first thing we tried to pitch the radio stations was just 10-15 seconds of dead air. We expected this, but we got some pushback on that one. They’re not too keen to do that. So we ended up running a funny script, letting people know that we wanted to give them a break for the holidays and the radio station wouldn’t let us run dead air. Then the announcement kind of stops for 5 seconds and says “But they were okay with this long pause. Happy holidays.”

Was part of the idea that this would give people a break during the saturation of messages during the holidays?

Flynn: It’s the busiest season of the year for advertising. A little bit naive to assume that all ads are good ads. A few calls we got back is “Why would an agency do this? It’s kind of against everything they should be for.” It’s not that we think that ads are bad; we just know that people don’t love ads. There’s a reason the skip ad button exists. As an agency it’s our job to try to push through noise and make things people want to engage with and don’t want to skip. This was kind of a commentary on that.

As a strategy of rolling it out, we launched the blank ads. There’s no name on it or anything. They existed in market for a week, and we took that week to shoot a campaign video for what we called “White Christmas.” After the week, we launched the video because we wanted to have some notoriety behind this. Since then, the response has been pretty huge and people definitely appreciate the gesture of when everyone is doing ads during the holiday season, the one person who didn’t is getting a lot of positive reaction for that.

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