2020 sure was something, wasn’t it?
Still, even though things were largely weird and unpleasant, the creativity of the OOH industry shone through all over the world.
We saw billboard and OOH ads that moved us, that made us laugh, and that reminded us that we were all in this crazy time together, and would make it through together.
Here’s a special edition of our year-end roundup, presented in no particular order, of campaigns that made us take notice for one reason or another.
Special category: COVID-related ads we loved
When the world started shutting down early in 2020, many in the OOH community took a hit pretty quickly. But even facing difficulty, the industry pulled together and put out some amazing campaigns to lift the world’s spirits. We covered a longer list of great COVID campaigns earlier in the year, but we wanted to take a moment to reshare a couple of favourites we’re still thinking about at the end of the year.
The Total Recovered campaign shows a running tally of people known to have recovered from COVID-19 worldwide. It uses real-time data from great sources, along with clever creative drawing power from some of the scariest words associated with COVID, to deliver a message of hope.
We supported this campaign ourselves, we promoted it here, and we like it so much that we’re talking about it again now. It’s a good one.
A little love goes a long way, and especially when it gets snapped up by OOH industry friends and displayed on screens around the world. With #SendingLove, people could send in pics of themselves doing heart hands, then contribute a donation to the global COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to receive a photo of their pic displayed on a digital display somewhere in the world.
This is another one we participated in ourselves. It was a cute thing and we’re glad it became as popular as it did.
There were tons of great campaigns that aimed to celebrate the essential workers who kept society running over the course of this year, and they’re all worthy of celebrating too. This just happens to be one that was running in our backyard.
Outfront Media Canada did this little series with special messages thanking people working all kinds of different jobs for doing all the stuff we never used to think about, but really rely on. Thanks to them for getting this message right, and to the workers, again, for keeping us going.
In December 2019, Emily Crisps decided it was finally going to do it. It was going to run its first ever out-of-home ad campaign – in April.
Needless to say, the brand realized in the spring that the campaign they’d hoped to run wasn’t exactly going to work out as they’d planned. And so it took a different approach, with tongue-in-cheek copy that made fun of a situation in which its ads were being delivered for nobody to see. The brand then snapped pics of its lonely outdoor ads and shared them on social media, where they proved to be pretty popular.
In a year that was all about making lemonade out of endless lemons, we have to applaud this campaign. Sure, OOH’s reach was down, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t find value in the medium anyway.
Some big names call New Jersey home, and the state put them to work as part of a campaign to get folks to, well, “Wear a friggin’ mask.”
We’re not going to lie: This isn’t the most impressive OOH campaign by most measures. But we like the self-awareness and we love Jon Stewart and that’s enough for this ad to land on this list. Springsteen and Bon Jovi are alright, too.
Honourable Mention: Netflix Spoilers
Just to be clear, we know this wasn’t a real ad campaign. But we love that somebody came up with this concept, and we think spoiling cherished shows is a perfect, deliciously petty way to get back at people who break quarantine.
That’s the thing about OOH ads: You don’t get to control what goes up there and you don’t get to click out of them. If somebody happened to be out where they shouldn’t have been and this had been a real campaign, justice would have been almost unavoidable (with apologies to innocent essential workers, of course).
Non-COVID ads we loved
It might have seemed like all the world talked about this year was COVID, but fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Here’s a run through some of our favourite ads that were for anything and everything else.
The BBC Dracula billboard
Yes, this is really something that first popped up at the end of 2019, but it arrived after last year’s wrap-up and it’s too cool to not make the list.
It’s genius, really. By day, all you see are bloody stakes on a white billboard – perfect imagery for a show about the world’s most infamous vampire. But by night, the careful positioning of the stakes on the canvas and a light placed in just the right spot produced a shadowy figure of a vampire right there for all to see.
For our money, the best execution of an OOH ad in the past year.
VW Beetle Last Mile
In a tragic moment for kids who like punching other kids, the Volkswagen Beetle was discontinued at the end of last year, to be replaced by production for a crossover vehicle.
There were little farewell videos put together, and a big sendoff campaign that involved a bunch of social media activity and some big billboard ads placed in Times Square.
This makes the list because it’s a big moment involving an iconic product that has been a fixture on our roadways for decades. Plus the campaign is just really cute. And to make this kind of message big and loud, what better medium than OOH to include in the celebration?
Happy Birthday, Dood!
Fact: Dogs are better than us. And given that, if we’re willing to devote whole billboards to people, should we not also make billboards for dogs?
YouTuber Max Chewning did just that at the beginning of the year, treating his precious pup, Dood, to a fun first birthday with a big walk, tasty treats, and a big ol’ billboard wishing Dood a happy birthday.
Max realizes dogs can’t read, but we sure can, and we love the idea of using billboards for unconventional proclamations of love. And if anyone deserves it, it’s Dood. Just look at that face.
Spotify 2020 Wrapped
If your main exposure to Spotify’s Wrapped campaign is the endless parade of screenshots your friends share on Instagram, you might not be super fond of this annual campaign. But the OOH stuff is great! Quirky data and playful copy make these ads annual favourites for us, social media annoyance aside. A great example of how OOH can take your digital campaigns and recontexualize them into something fun.
Weedmaps 420 Ad
The neat thing about DOOH is how easy it is to target your ad plays based on location, time of day, and a whole bunch more. So of course, with the rise of legal cannabis in the US – of course – somebody would come along with a clever idea to take advantage of that capability.
The idea: Every day at 4:20 PM, a Weedmaps ad displays on a billboard in Los Angeles. A simple idea, but a clever one that is likely to spark interest in a fair number of onlookers.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service thanks its firefighters
It seems like a lifetime ago, but just this year, we were spending a lot of time talking about the devastating bushfires over in Australia. Millions of acres of land were affected, thousands of homes and other buildings were destroyed, and as many as a billion animals may have lost their lives in the fires.
Across the country, firefighting teams worked tirelessly, and at personal risk, to contain and eventually stop the fires, and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service wanted to thank them with something special. It decided to do so with a special thank you message delivered to a prominent digital screen right in Times Square of New York City.
On top of celebrating people who undoubtedly deserve it, this ad is special to us for a couple of reasons. One, it highlights just how easy it is to deliver an OOH ad all the way across the world. Two, it’s a great example of why OOH is a special medium. Realistically, very few Australian firefighters, if any, saw that ad live on the screen. But the prestige of the screen on which the message was shown made it special all the same. Out-of-home inventory is scarce, and premium, and makes for experiences (and gifts) unlike anything you’ll find in the online space.
Dating apps can be fun, but the fun does tend to wear off, and then what are you supposed to do? Well, we could take a leaf out of Mark’s book and throw up a billboard asking people to date us.
This isn’t the only billboard like this that we’ve seen, or even the only one this year, but it’s always fun to see OOH turned into a glorified dating profile. If your parents are hounding you to find a special someone to settle down with, we recommend ditching the apps and trying OOH instead.
Racists: Delete Uber
Global demonstrations against racism were the other big story this year, and a fair number of brands made declarations of support for and solidarity with people facing racial discrimination.
One that caught our eye came from Uber, which had a simple message for the racists out there: If you tolerate racism, delete Uber. They were strong words with a very clear meaning, delivered on an enormous canvas outdoors and supplemented with social media activity speaking to the same thing. Great use of the format.
Meatless Farm – M… F…
Plant-based simulation meat has exploded in popularity the past couple of years, becoming a tasty alternative not just for vegans and vegetarians, but also for omnivores looking to reduce their consumption of animal products.
Of all the brands throwing their hats into this exciting new ring, Meatless Farm’s ads are probably our favourites. They’re simple, play on the brand’s initials, and do a great job of selling the product with tantalizing visuals. Who wouldn’t want an M… F… burger that looks like those?
Welcome Back, Ben
Sports fans can be vicious, and we love when that leaks onto a billboard for the world to see. For example, this billboard from a Baltimore radio station poking fun at a time Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got sacked by the Ravens.
Is it in poor taste? Some of the folks over in Pittsburgh think so. We, on the other hand, think that billboards are the perfect place to share cheeky digs like this one.
Nature’s Essential Workers
The Earth Day campaigns from EarthDay.org and the OAAA are quickly becoming annual favourites of ours. This year, the campaign highlighted some of the creatures upon which humanity relies, presenting them as workers no less essential than those human workers celebrated by other campaigns this year.
The creative and the message are both great, but it’s especially nice that the ad space for this campaign was donated by members of the OAAA. Thank you for celebrating them the way they deserve to be.
Who is Callum?
We’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions this year, but few have captured the imagination quite like this one: Who is Callum?
A single billboard in Sheffield, UK shared out a simple message for all passers-by to see, and it took the internet by storm. Everyone wanted to know Callum was, what question he was meant to answer, and what that answer would be.
A few weeks later, the oh-so-sweet answers were in. Callum said “yes,” and the rest of our questions were answered as well.
It just goes to the kind of impact a single clever billboard can have, just by virtue of being in view of a curious public. If you want to build intrigue, OOH is a great way to do it.
The PS5 London Underground Signs
With this fall’s release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, gamers around the world rejoiced at the coming of a new age of console gaming. And to mark the occasion, Sony decided to do something fun over in London.
Replacing the iconic London Underground signage symbols with the equally iconic symbols that grace PlayStation controller buttons, Sony was able to catch the eye with a really simple, yet unmistakable campaign to highlight its brand at an exciting time. Let’s just ignore the fact that the PS5 has been remarkably difficult to buy and just enjoy the way it was promoted, shall we?
The Steve-O Gnarly Billboard
Once in a while, a member of the Jackass gang will do something silly or dangerous or just plain outrageous and land back in the headlines. We appreciate them for that.
This year, Steve-O decided to make himself into a marketing piece for his new comedy special. The stunt: Taping himself to a big ol’ billboard and kinda just hanging out.
Is this something we think other people should repeat? No. But it’s a testament to the versatility of the OOH space that it’s a thing that can be done. Try taping yourself to a phone and see whether that gets much press.
Kevin Hart’s one of the most popular comedians working today, and it seems one Toronto man is infatuated enough that he threw up a billboard pleading for Hart to take a selfie with him.
Before long, the billboard went viral, blowing up online and in news media in Canada and the US. Hart took notice, the two started messaging back and forth, and plans to take a selfie were put into motion.
This billboard highlights a key element of outdoor advertising: A good concept will get people talking about an OOH ad online and in other media channels as well. Your value with OOH doesn’t end with just reaching people out on the street.
Bubl’s “Follow Me” Ad for O2
Interactive billboard ads are a ton of fun, and we really like the way this one was done. A little robot walks along the screen, keeping time with passers-by who are also walking. If they stop to look, the robot engages with them. He points, he waves, he dances. It’s a bunch of fun.
The neat thing is that the robot is controlled by a person on the scene, who is using a game controller to manipulate the robot. It’s probably not the kind of ad that you’re going to run all the time, but for occasional stunts, this type of ad is a really effective way to get attention.
Twitter’s Relationship Advice
Twitter isn’t always the most wholesome place, but sometimes it produces some fun – and dare we say wise? – content for our enjoyment.
And sometimes Twitter shares that outside of its platform. This year, it took some fun and funny relationship commentary and advice and put it up on billboards, using the same design as a regular tweet for the ad.
This could be flashier. A digital campaign would perhaps include interactivity, with audience members being able to contribute their own tweets. Or it would just cycle through more messages. But it’s still a fun example of how social media content can sometimes be repurposed for OOH. Just note that unless you’re Twitter or have a really clever idea, it’s usually best not to just stick a social media post up on a billboard.
Aruba’s cruel weather ads
Anyone who lives up north, as we do, knows the pain of living through a cold winter while someone else you know escapes down south for surf and sun. Campaigns like this one, put together by the Aruba Tourism Authority, twist the knife a little bit, and that’s what makes them so effective.
It’s a great concept: Display the local temperature in Chicago side by side with the live temperature and weather in sunny Aruba – and throw in imagery of people enjoying life in the Carribean, just to make sure everyone passing by gets good and envious. The fact that it’s live weather data really makes it hard to resist the temptation to head on down; you know exactly what you’re missing out on when you see the ad.
Knab thanks its Customers
One of the big differences between OOH and online advertising is that OOH is a one-to-many medium, meaning it’s used to reach audiences, and not specific members of those audiences. Well, typically, that is.
Knab, an online bank in the Netherlands, decided to push that dynamic a little bit by putting out personalized thank-you messages for customers. The brand first reached out to customers to see if they would like to see their personal message up on the screen, then scheduled the messages so that respondents would be able to see.
It’s a fun campaign – who wouldn’t want to be thanked on a billboard? – and the added thoughtfulness of reaching out to the audience to make sure they could enjoy it is really nice.