by Sarah Druhan, OOH TODAY Journalist
It was on December 6, 2022 that a group of new billboards and posters started cropping up around cities in northern Germany, all referencing a mysterious real estate startup known only as ‘The Rise.’ Much like its advertisements, The Rise seemed to have appeared overnight—no one could remember ever hearing about it. The billboards themselves were characterized only by a small map of Germany’s projected shoreline in 2050 and by their announcement of “the beach properties of the future.” It wasn’t long before curious German citizens started Googling this shadowy startup—and when they realized what they were looking at, they were stunned.
Not only was The Rise selling what seemed to be unassuming plots of land at least 12 miles from the coast. But their pitch was that, with the help of quickly rising sea levels, what they were really selling was a future dream beach location. Below the website’s visual demonstration of a retreating coastline, alluring images of tropical shores beckoned customers to “benefit from climate change,” calling the global crisis a “unique opportunity.” “Let your returns rise with the sea level!” proclaimed the company CEO Jens Zastrow in a video from the same page, smiling charmingly by the side of one of his infamous billboards.
It didn’t take long for news of The Rise to start spreading like wildfire. Users from all across German social media demanded to know who was behind it. German climate activists could barely believe the billboards even existed. And, yes: amidst all the confusion and outrage, quiet inquiries from people about The Rise’s land really were pouring in.
The idea that climate change could be seen as an investment opportunity in this day and age had always seemed preposterous. But as The Rise’s campaign continued to roll out, there was no avoiding it: this tragic idea was feeling realer and realer.
That is, until last week.
The Truth Comes Out
As of January 10, eager German investors were clicking on The Rise’s website only to find that images of sunny shores had been replaced by melting icecaps. A small sticker at the top of the site solemnly reading “STOP THE RISE” had replaced the company’s original name. And people on their way to work were stunned to notice the original billboards were now obstructed by splashy orange signs reading: “The action was a fake. Climate change is not.”
For there was no real estate startup called ‘The Rise’—and there never had been. There had never been actual plans of selling these plots of land. ‘CEO’ Jens Zastrow was only an actor. This campaign’s true masterminds were revealed by a recent press release: prominent Berlin-based financial services provider ‘growney’, with the help of creative agencies Philipp & Keuntje and fischerAppelt.
As for why these companies would go to so much effort to create this entirely fake campaign, an entirely fake brand—fake LinkedIn pages and all? The short answer: to the growney team, emphasizing sustainability is worth every penny.
“In times of crisis, people try to invest their money safely—real estate is a top-rated one,” said growney sales manager Thimm Blickensdorf in the same press release last Wednesday. “In the process, sustainability is often ignored as a factor.”
In other words, by creating this almost comically evil fake company, growney was all the more able to drive home one simple fact: if we can make money off the environment, then we also can use our money to protect it. The campaign additionally worked as a subtle advertisement for growney, a company that holds itself to strict standards of ecological responsibility. At the very least, with their name now stamped all over northern Germany’s most notorious billboards, it can be said that growney made their mark.
So…What Does This Mean for OOH?
Even from a purely out-of-home perspective, this campaign is one that will stick with people for a long time. The overnight transformation of the ‘RISE’ billboards, for instance, was a flawless delivery of just the kind of shock factor growney was going for.
But in this case, Philipp & Keuntje and fischerAppelt were arguably doing more than just their jobs. They were demonstrating OOH’s ability to really get in people’s faces more than any other medium—especially about issues we can no longer afford to ignore.
The OOH pieces used by ‘The RISE’ may not have been actually marketing a specific product or brand. But according to Philipp & Keuntje Executive Creative Director Jonas Keller, they highlighted the power of out-of-home to actually make the world a better place.
“We invented this campaign to bring this important topic back into people’s heads…in a way that provided even more awareness than every other campaign launched before,” says Keller.
“Philipp & Keuntje is a creative agency with a purpose. And we are always trying to make a difference. Not only for our customers…but for society in general.”