Fortune Cookie Ad Scheme May Offer a Glance into OOH Future
almost every single Chinese restaurant in the United States.
by Sarah Druhan, OOH TODAY Journalist
According to entrepreneur Matt Williams, the ‘lightbulb moment’ of every advertiser’s dreams is mostly just that: a dream. But about six years ago, his current business partner Shawn Porat was sitting in a Chinese restaurant when he felt it: an undeniable stroke of inspiration.
“He picked up his fortune cookie, turned the fortune around and was like—whoa! This is totally blank,” says Williams. “He looks around the restaurant and sees people all opening and reacting to these things. It occurred to him there might be an advertising opportunity here.”
Porat brought this idea to Williams—then known for his invention of the LavCup—soon after. It didn’t take long for the two to start OpenFortune: a media platform that would soon aim to put advertisers inside every fortune cookie in the US.
“We were excited to bring what we thought of as a ‘new life’ to the fortune cookie,” says Williams. “We heard from a lot of people in different case studies being like, ‘I just get the same thing every time.’ So while we wanted to uphold the integrity of the fortune cookie, we also wanted to create a better consumer experience.”
How it works is this. Let’s say a brand like Fujifilm reaches out to OpenFortune, wanting to promote their latest camera to college students. So OpenFortune enters this information into their massive restaurant database, which spits out a list of every Chinese restaurant partnered with OpenFortune that is also within 10 miles of a college.
Soon enough, hungry college students all over the country are breaking open fortune cookies to find a small advertisement for Fujifilm splashed on the back of their fortune. The fortune itself is retooled to match the campaign’s theme; a Fujifilm fortune could say ‘Shoot your Shot,’ for example.
“Fortune cookies are very important to people. When we started doing this, we were excited, but also a little worried about interrupting that experience,” reminisces Williams.
“During our first launch with Capital One in 2018, people were like, ‘what the hell is this thing?’ But from Capital One’s perspective, we were reaching people at a point in time when they’re just about to whip out their credit card. And the reactions created exactly what we wanted: a conversation at the dinner table and beyond, on social media.”
Five years after their partnership with Capital One, OpenFortune claims to have a presence in over 42,000 locations— almost every single Chinese restaurant in the United States. Their clients include Zelle, ZipRecruiter, and even the infamous Duolingo owl. Their stats say they engage with over 135 million consumers a month, as well as experience 20 times more social amplification than mediums like billboards.
The existence of something like OpenFortune has brought up some interesting questions, much of them about the line between advertising and our daily lives. Williams’ fortune cookie gambit has proven a masterclass in OOH’s ability to really travel, from the dinner table to the Internet and even—in the case of takeout fortune cookies—into the home.
So yes, OOH certainly can be anywhere and everywhere. But the eternal dilemma remains: how much is too much?
It’s a question of the times. We may not have a solid consensus any time soon. But Williams seems well aware of the line he walks. Over the years, he’s come to view advertising as less of a quick moneymaker, and more as a unique art form.
“I don’t believe in just finding an empty space and putting an ad on it…that’s not what excites me,” the OpenFortune founder explains. “There are plenty of places you can do that with. I just don’t find fun in it.
“Especially now, what I really want to do is make a more fun experience for a captive audience. When I think about new businesses, they have to be something actually thoughtful and additive to people’s lives, because that’s what I’m passionate about.”