Auckland billboards displaying memes instead of business ads during level 4 lockdown

Charities have also been given display space during lockdowns.
Charities have also been given display space during lockdowns. Photo credit: Supplied

In central Auckland, some electronic billboards have stopped advertising businesses and are instead sharing memes in an attempt to bring a smile to Kiwis impacted by the current COVID-19 lockdown.

Three Lumo-controlled billboards have begun displaying content from popular Instagram account nzlockdownmemes, which has 95,000 Instagram followers.

The account was started last year by personal trainer Ben Evans and converts popular internet memes, recontextualising them for a New Zealand audience amid the pandemic. 

"Lumo initially approached me about getting them up on their screens," Evans told Newshub, confirming that he wasn't paying for the adverts.

"They said they were keen to fill their advertising space with some fun content in lockdown and so we went at it with the angle of 'NZ's Biggest Meme'.

"It's pretty cool to see, and I'm flattered they were keen on doing so."

The move has won praise on Twitter with supportive comments like: "Make advertising illegal I support this", "the only pure use of billboards" and "this is an amazing use of a billboard".

Hamish Smith, chief marketing officer at Lumo, told Newshub the last year has been tough for all Kiwis and nzockdownmemes hope to provide some much needed levity.

He said the company has also used its billboards to post public service announcements and support a large number of charities, organisations and small businesses for free.

This included the Up & Running campaign, which offered free advertising for small and medium-sized businesses and Voices of Hope, which shared content to support mental health and wellbeing.

Other examples included Kiwi artists' work being displayed on billboards around the country and, in April last year, 25 giant furry friends to support the popular lockdown teddy bear hunt.

The company was able to offer the free inventory because traffic levels are so low and some advertising campaigns had to be moved, Smith said, so "why not give more Kiwis a reason to smile and have a good laugh?".

There is no current time set for when the memes will disappear from the billboards as it depends on Auckland's lockdown levels and when business as usual will continue.

And while creator Evans can enjoy the brief exposure, he says he's not enjoying alert level 4 lockdown and is grateful his meme page offers a creative outlet that keeps him occupied.

"I can't wait to get back to level 2 and restore some normality," he told Newshub.