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What Is Reverse Advertising?


The concept of reverse advertising is not new, but the levels to which it is being taken are increasingly sophisticated. Essentially, the term refers to the counter-intuitive approach of advertising without making direct or overt mention of a product brand name, slogan or visual. When looking at such an ad, consumers can at least consciously have no idea what the product being sold is.

Coca Cola Happiness

At the beginning of 2009, Coca Cola unleashed its “Open Happiness” campaign. Attached to a song of the same name, it showed for only a split second the actual visual of a Coca Cola brand product. The rest of the time, it was all about celebrating the values of the human spirit.

MTV went so far as to premiere the “Open Happiness” song like any other music video, a move Coca Cola insists it did not pay the network for. As the head of the responsible ad agency confirmed, Coca Cola is in a uniquely powerful position to try such risky advertising: their brand is already extremely well known and they have a very large ad budget with which to partially experiment. Another unusual example of reverse advertising was the 2008 Chris Brown music video for “Forever”, which was a disguised ad for Doublemint gum and included the product slogan as one of the song lyrics.

Reverse Graffiti

Cash-strapped cities in the U.S. and overseas are being forced in the 21st century to come up with creative new fundraising methods. The British town of Leeds has taken the concept of reverse advertising and applied it to the task of cleaning up its dirtier corners. Instead of simply painting over worn walls, it is re-doing them as advertising, so as to gain extra revenue. The practice has proved quite controversial, with some local politicians and citizens decrying the fact that the city simply won’t clean up the areas in conventional fashion.



New York Times – “Marketing a Drink, But Never by Name”, July 15, 2009, Retrieved December 11, 2010 from

Yorkshire Post – “Leeds Street Ads Scheme Sparks Graffitti Row”, Decemebr 8, 2010, Retrieved December 11, 2010 from

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