Mannequin media

In these days of online shopping and a pandemic-induced slowdown in offline shopping, mannequins almost seem like a quaint concept. To some extent, I’d argue that they have become blind spots for us.

They seem to be getting more interest in entertainment than shopping these days, considering the use of the mannequin as a significant plot point in one of the segments in Netflix’s Ankahi Kahaniya, and the upcoming Tamil film titled ‘Bommai‘ (meaning ‘doll’ in Tamil!).

But the mannequin has been used more recently in the form of outdoor media in advertising not just in one instance but by two different brands across two different countries.

Two ad agencies have arrived at the same creative idea using mannequins, in two different countries at almost the same time – one in Europe and another in South America!

Bulgaria – April 2022:

Mall Plovdiv, a Bulgarian mall, is a conventional offline mall. And like many malls around the world, footfalls are taking a beating owing to the pandemic.

Among the tactics employed by the mall to get people back to the mall is the one conceived by their agency, called ‘Proof’.

Proof’s idea is clever and very inventive because it zags where everyone else zigs – lateral thinking. Proof questions the idea that a mannequin should be placed close to the place of shopping. Since it is not a fixed artefact, why not place it away from the place of shopping and let it act like outdoor media?

So they placed the well-dressed (with clothes from the mall, of course) mannequins out in the streets along with a QR code! People scanned it to find discounts on select stores in the mall for the clothes the mannequins were wearing! It’s a simple, clever idea by thinking differently about the placement of mannequins to enthuse people to head back to the mall.

There are practical questions, though. Outdoor media vehicles require permission from the local administration. You cannot just place a mannequin on any side-walk, after all.

Mannequins are not weather-proof and placing them in random places away from a shop (where they are usually protected/guarded, placed inside at night, and so on) opens them to theft, vandalism, weather, etc. A random, well-dressed mannequin out in the street seems like an open invitation to theft 🙂 But I’m perhaps considering it from the Indian perspective, and I do not know the Bulgarian perspective on this at all.

The mall could still pull it off on a limited scale, by getting the requisite permissions from the local authorities and using watchers from nearby shops where the mannequins are placed away from the mall. So it’s plausible as a medium of advertising, and not all that improbable.

The fact is that this is a clever inversion of the idea of the use of mannequins as far as their placement goes.

Peru – May 2022:

The Peruvian branch of the agency Fahrenheit DDB thought on very similar lines regarding the use of mannequins. The core thought is identical – why should they be placed only close to the place of shopping?

But instead of placing them in random places in the city, the agency had a far more cohesive and purposeful thought!

For that, they considered a very-real situation faced by theaters because of the pandemic! Theaters were being asked to reduce their capacity to only 65% in Peru, as a country-wide mandate. This is to allow them to maintain social distancing – this was an idea that was implemented in India too, during the peak pandemic time, but this has been eased now to allow for 100% capacity.

So, if a theater is mandatorily forced to leave as many as 35% of the seats free, is there a way they can be used beyond just sticking a sticker on them that says ‘This seat is to be left free’?

The agency’s response: ‘why not?’ 🙂

Consider the fact that these seats cannot be booked by people and the theater is losing money on them! So, the agency, on behalf of their client, Oechsle, a retail giant, bought those unbookable seats and placed Oechsle’s well-dressed mannequins on them!!

This is even more brilliant than the Bulgarian idea because these mannequins are seen in close quarters by a captive audience! Like the Bulgarian idea, the mannequins also carried QR codes that can be scanned to buy what they are wearing!

There is a drawback here too, though. In the Bulgarian idea, the mannequins were placed in a way that people can come up close, look it up, see the QR code, scan it, and so on. In terms of accessibility, this placement scores high.

But in the Peruvian idea, accessibility is an issue. Theaters are usually cramped (relatively) spaces and we tend to go directly to our seats, looking for them specifically. Assuming we do have a mannequin near our seats, we become captive audiences. Also considering the fact that there are multiple shows in theaters (in Peru, this idea was executed not in cinema theaters, but in a theater that played live music/shows, etc.) and this opens the possibility of different people being exposed to the mannequins at various points in time.

However, this execution handles the other issue posed in the Bulgarian idea – the placement here is in a safe space, protected from weather or theft! Plus, the theaters can actually make money out of unbookable seats and that’s a very valid reason for them to keep these media vehicles safe.

In fact, if I think about it, theaters around the world (any kind of theaters, including cinema theaters) can perhaps charge more from brands to permanently set aside a small percentage of seats as ‘advertising seats’! Say, 10-20 seats per theater? Whatever they charge from people/audiences, the theaters may perhaps make more per seat from brands depending on whatever they want to sell. Imagine a couple of Ronald McDonald sitting inside a cinema theater with QR codes carrying some offers that can be availed at the Mcdonald’s store in the same mall. The store could directly evaluate the impact of this advertising medium by tracking the code scans!

Yes, it may seem creepy (initially) to be seated next to a mannequin inside a dark theater, but over time, I’m guessing people may make it a socially shareable idea too, by taking selfies with the mannequin next to them 🙂



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