Our 21 Favourite Billboard Ads of 2019

Rob Côté | December 16, 2019

We love the whole world of out-of-home advertising, but let’s be honest; few things capture the attention quite like a great billboard.

We’ve seen a lot of great billboard ads over the course of the year. Some moved us, others made us laugh, and still others were just great examples of creative ideas that were executed well.

To round up the year, we thought we’d call out some of our favourite campaigns, presented in no particular order, that made us take notice for one reason or another.

Call for Help – CALM

In the UK, the Campaign Against Living Miserably is helping lead a movement to prevent suicide, which is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the country and responsible for approximately 18 deaths per day. The organization offers telephone and live chat services for people who need someone to talk to, and produce campaigns to spread awareness of the prevalence of suicide in the UK.

With “Call for Help,” the group teamed with Ocean Outdoor and ADAM & EVE DDB to create a dynamic campaign delivered to digital posters and billboards in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Whenever a person called in to CALM’s helpline, it triggered an onscreen call that viewers could see and hear.

Why we love this campaign: Call for Help did a fantastic job of using dynamic DOOH to draw attention to the UK’s mental health crisis. The viewers’ reactions in the video below sum up just how good this campaign was.

Bee Hotels – McDonald’s Sweden

We’ve known for decades that bees are struggling, and it’s going to take creative ideas to get the little critters back to health. With its “Bee hotels” campaign, McDonald’s Sweden took a stab at making a more hospitable world for bees by turning its billboards into spaces where hives can grow and thrive.

Why we love this campaign: Digital billboards tend to be the flashiest, but this campaign is a great example of how a creative idea for a static billboard can generate plenty of buzz. It’s also fitting to have billboards, which are a part of our built environment, put to use to help solve an important environmental issue.

Kylie Skin’s Programmatic Campaign

One of the big stories this year was the big programmatic move made by Kylie Skin. An ad for the brand took over 5,800 screens in more than 1,000 cities, all delivered programmatically (including to screens operating on Broadsign Reach).

Why we love this campaign: This was a great example of how programmatic DOOH can deliver enormous campaigns with relative ease, and we were thrilled to see it get so much attention. It also just tickles us anytime someone with as much online clout as Kylie Jenner decides to spend her marketing dollars in the OOH space.

Times Square Takeover – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Few properties inspire the kind of excitement that Harry Potter does, even so many years after the series ended. With the hit play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” set to make its Broadway debut earlier this year, organizers wanted to capitalize on this by creating an immersive DOOH experience right in the middle of Times Square. The campaign saw several prominent screens taken over to deliver synchronized creative that told a story across a larger canvas than any individual screen would manage on its own.

Why we love this campaign: Just look at this thing. Visually, it’s remarkable, and then there’s the consideration of just how difficult it must have been to create and synchronize video across all those different screens. Plus it’s not like we’re immune to Harry Potter’s charms. We love the wizarding world, too.

A Decade Wrapped – Spotify

Spotify’s annual “Wrapped” campaign is always a delight, turning the year’s big acts (and some of the secret musical shames of Spotify’s users) into fun and funny billboards put up around the world.

Why we love this campaign: Since we’re closing out the 2010s, this year’s Wrapped is extra special. Spotify shared some really funny messages that pull from a decade’s worth of data. As always, the results make for great billboards and other OOH ads for us all to enjoy.

No Time to Die Trailer on Piccadilly Lights – Universal Pictures

Daniel Craig might hate being James Bond, but we love watching him do the globetrotting secret agent thing. And where better to do that than on the giant screens in Piccadilly Circus? Just after the trailer went up online, it was played for a crowd of fans in the square, giving everyone a large-format sneak peek at the adventure to come. This was the first time a trailer ever launched on Piccadilly’s screens.

Why we love this campaign: It’s Bond. James Bond. Also, there just isn’t enough video being delivered to DOOH screens for our liking, and this was a great example of an easy way to make a big moment even bigger by playing video content on a billboard.

A view of the No Time to Die trailer playing on the screens at Piccadilly Circus

 

Love for Kawhi Leonard – Many

When Kawhi Leonard helped lead the Toronto Raptors to victory in the 2019 NBA Finals, two things happened. First, he set off a country-wide celebration among people who, if we’re being honest, generally don’t care much about basketball. Second, he kicked off a flood of billboards meant to show him some love – and maybe draw him over to a new team.

Why we love these campaigns: What better way to show love for people who loom larger than life than with a medium that does the same? With billboards like these getting magnified on social media, their reach extends beyond even the considerable visibility they have out in the world.

A billboard ad with the name "Kawhi" as the number on a California license plate. #ClipperNation appears at the bottom.

Howard Stern and Jimmy Fallon Livestream – The Tonight Show

Howard Stern doesn’t need any help getting attention. For reasons good and bad, the man’s been a pop culture fixture for decades now, and might be the biggest name in US radio today. Still, he and Captain Giggles hatched a plan to make his voice even louder. That plan: Livestream Stern’s appearance on The Tonight Show to a billboard in Times Square – and throw in the Hokey Pokey while they were at it.

Why we love this campaign: Digital billboards are big and bright, and they pair well with an excellent sound system. Why not use that to deliver live content to people in prominent places? Making passers-by feel like they’re a part of a special moment is sure to make them eager to share their experience, and will help ensure the message is remembered for longer than most ads would be.

Make the Most of Summer – Google

Summer is beautiful and fleeting, so it’s important to make the most of it and pack your days with fun at the pool, out at the grill, or enjoying the rest of the season’s bounty. That’s why Google’s ad was so effective. By pulling real search data, the brand turned popular searches and associated answers into highly relevant content that viewers wanted to see.

Why we love this campaign: Dynamic DOOH campaigns that change messaging in response to weather and other conditions always have a special place in our heart. This campaign is especially great, though, because it uses something everyone is familiar with – Google searches – to market Google searches. Well done.

Celebrating Advertising – Clio Awards

What better way to celebrate advertising than with a big ad for awards that celebrate advertising? To promote the Clio Awards this year, the Clios commissioned a painting that included and celebrated some of the most famous icons of advertising, displaying it digitally in Times Square.

Why we love this campaign: It’s an ad, yes, but it’s unique, and artistic to a degree you don’t always (or even often) see up on a billboard. Consider it inspiration for creatives to maybe think outside the box with their work, and even for artists to look up for a place to proverbially hang their latest masterpiece.

End the Drought – Ace Ticket

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a North American sports fan in possession of good taste, must hate teams from Boston. That being said, this ad from Ace Ticket is too good. Boston, you see, has been on an undeserved tear in the professional sports world, winning titles in all the sports in the past decade or so. Ace Ticket played off of that and produced the ad you see below.

Why we love this campaign: It’s memorable, relevant, and plays off of hometown pride and everyone else’s rage to solid effect. Good example of how billboards allow you to be cheeky on a larger scale.

Beauty Unaltered – CVS

There’s a simmering, much-needed, and very welcome backlash against image alteration used to promote unrealistic beauty standards. Even better, there’s also a trend geared towards celebrating the way people really look. That’s where the CVS campaign comes in, with users encouraged to upload their unaltered selfies to be shared on screens in Times Square.

Why we love this campaign: Poor self image is something many people struggle with, and it’s nice to see a campaign geared toward helping fix that. That it’s an interactive DOOH campaign in such a high-profile location makes it all the better.

 

Matching the CN Tower – KitchenAid

Among advertising mediums, out-of-home is rather special. OOH ads aren’t just ads, but rather become a part of the landscape in which they appear. This year, KitchenAid put up an ad in keeping with that idea, showing off the diverse colour options for its famous stand mixers by syncing the mixer’s colouring to that of the CN Tower’s lighting.

Why we love this campaign: The CN Tower is kind of eye-catching, so tying a billboard ad to the landmark is a sharp move. A great example of making ads a part of the world around them, and a clever way to take advantage of dynamic triggers for big visual impact.

Snap Originals AR Billboards – Snap

Looking to diversify and expand the experience of using Snapchat, Snap invested in creating original content for its users to enjoy. To get the word out, it turned to OOH advertising, with the creative incorporating Snap codes that would trigger AR experiences inside of Snapchat.

Why we love this campaign: Billboards are great on their own, but they’re even better when you use them alongside other channels. A mobile + OOH AR experience like this one is a great example of that in action.

A Snapchat ad for Dead of Night

Protect Our Species – OAAA

The climate and ecological crises took on new cultural importance this year. There’s greater awareness than ever of just how much damage is being done to the planet, and the ways that humans and other animals stand to suffer as a result. To help shed more light on this, the OAAA partnered with Earth Day Network and OOH businesses around the US to put up special messages urging onlookers to join the movement to protect vulnerable creatures.

Why we love this campaign: Out-of-home can be a great tool for social change, and few causes are as urgent or important as addressing the ecological crises.

An image of a sea turtle with #ProtectOurSpecies

OAAA.org

Team Rocket Takeover – Pokemon Go/Niantic

If you’re prepared for trouble, dealing with Team Rocket isn’t so tough. Still, it was cause for alarm for Pokemon fans across New York when billboards and other OOH displays were taken over by Team Rocket for a special Pokemon Go event in July. The ads alerted players to Team Rocket’s takeover of Pokestops and other significant areas in the game, setting the scene for epic battles for the fate of the city.

Why we love this campaign: Pokemon Go is still one of the biggest AR games around, and finding a way to make digital OOH advertising a part of one of its events is a great way to deliver a little extra sizzle for players. It was almost enough to make us pick up the game again!

Pokemon Go ads appearing on bus shelters. The ads advertise that Team Rocket has taken over the city

Blurry Photos – McDonald’s

Would you recognize McDonald’s fries in a photo? How about if that photo was blurry? The brand bet people would, and so produced a great campaign that featured popular menu items in blurred-out photos, with the caption “Say no more” (translated from Spanish).

Why we love this campaign: You need to pay attention to get what’s happening in these ads, and that’s what makes them so effective. Drawing and holding attention with OOH is a great way to deliver results for brands with good awareness.

An ad showing a blurry McDonald's hamburger on a red billboard

Bear Breath – His Dark Materials

The “His Dark Materials” series has delighted readers for decades, but there’s never been a screen adaptation that lived up to the beloved novels. Fans got new hope with the fall launch of a television adaptation airing on BBC and HBO, and a fun treat in the form of a billboard with one of the series’ famous armoured bears breathing real steam.

Why we love this campaign: Going beyond a regular billboard ad doesn’t have to involve tons of elaborate steps. Simple things, like a pipe shooting out some steam, can do a lot to make ads stand out.

A billboard for His Dark Materials. An armoured bear breathing real steam looms behind a little girl

Probably Not the Best Beer – Carlsberg

Carlsberg is probably not the best beer in the world, but it might be! But it probably isn’t. That about sums up the campaign the brand ran this year, which looked to acknowledge customer dissatisfaction and harness it for a cheeky campaign. All of this culminated in the announcement of a new product which is probably also not the best beer in the world, but it might be!

Why we love this campaign: There’s a fun middle ground between brands being too serious and brands forcing the fun. This campaign finds that middle ground. That it was a part of an omnichannel campaign with other creative delivered to social media makes it all the sweeter.

A billboard featuring a Carlsberg beer and the phrase "Probably not the best beer"

Airpods Pro Surprise – Apple

Here’s a neat idea. What if a billboard ad didn’t need to be posted all at once? That’s the idea Apple stumbled upon for a recent Airpods Pro campaign, and it wound up being pretty clever. Unbranded images of people were posted to billboards, creating a sense of curiosity. Then, once the Airpods Pro were officially announced, the billboards were updated to include branding and, of course, the distinctive wireless earbuds.

Why we love this campaign: Putting up a whole billboard takes a little time. Putting up small portions of a billboard takes much less. By choosing to roll out their billboards the way they did, Apple was able to get big, compelling OOH messaging up much faster than if they had waited until after their announcement to start posting.

The completed Airpods Pro Billboard, with the Airpods inserted and the branding included

Goodbye OTA – “Arrow” Fandom

This was a big year for “fandoms” (groups of fans of a particular artist or property) showing their love by purchasing billboards. There were billboards geared toward saving popular shows like Daredevil and The OA, billboards to celebrate favourite bands like BTS, and billboards like this one, which said a fond farewell to the core characters – original team Arrow, or OTA – of the TV series Arrow, which is in the process of wrapping up.

Why we love this campaign: It’s easy to forget that it’s not just big brands that can invest in billboard advertising in prominent places like Times Square. This campaign is a nice reminder that messages regular people want to share can find a happy home with OOH advertising. It’s also worth pointing out that this ad looks pretty good, considering it was a labour of love.

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