If 2020 could be characterized as very weird and largely awful, 2021 is probably best characterized as still pretty weird, but increasingly less awful. And, in the OOH space, it was marked by an incredible return to form and prominence.
We saw some genuinely stellar ads released over the course of the year, some really interesting adoption of our formats by grassroots movements, and huge enthusiasm for technical executions that do great credit to our whole space.
Here’s a look at some of the ads that most spoke to us this year, presented in no particular order of importance.
OOH helped take stonks to the moon
We talked about this at the beginning of the year, when the GME stock craze was in full swing. This was a year in which huge numbers of people around the world coordinated investment efforts, claiming to do so in support of companies they felt were under attack by the investment establishment. We take no position on that, but we do love that when they went to get the word out there, they chose to do so using OOH.
The trend didn’t end with GME. Other stocks, like AMC, and many different kinds of cryptocurrency, found themselves getting support from OOH advertising paid for by enthusiastic investors.
It’s a great example of a message we never get tired of repeating. When people are passionate about a message and want to get the word out, there’s no medium quite like OOH for making it happen.
Anamorphic ads blew our minds
Anamorphic ads aren’t new, but we saw a regular cadence of really stunning examples this year and thought that they deserved a special section all their own.
The haters will say that anamorphic ads are still 2D, and look kind of weird if you don’t see them from the right angle. We, on the other hand, think they’re very cool, both on a creative and a technical level. If it looks as nice as one of these ads, we’re happy to be fooled by fake 3D any day.
A recent campaign for the Prime Video show “The Wheel of Time” brought magic and monsters to life in Piccadilly Circus.
This ad gave us larger-than-life noodles that we wanted to just reach out and grab. If you want to make a crowd hungry, playing an ad like this is a pretty good call.
This cat seems like a very good cat, and we would like it to be our friend.
This year, there were a few location, location, location-based ads we loved
Fendi took over Times Square
The ultimate playground for ad space, some of the world’s biggest and most creative campaigns have been displayed across the iconic screens of Times Square. Fendi’s latest campaign saw the NYC landmark lit up from top to bottom in the brand’s signature yellow in celebration of a successful year for the fashion house. Though the campaign has sparked some online debate over the creativity of the OOH ads themselves, we think its use of location and contextual factors earn it a spot on our list.
While the 45 screens displaying Fendi’s logo may seem like a classic city-takeover campaign, some see it as an attempt to overshadow its longtime fashion house rival Gucci, who was hosting the world premiere of its highly publicized film House of Gucci merely blocks away. Whether you love or hate the simplicity of Fendi’s Times Square takeover, the campaign resulted in millions of impressions over the duration of its display. We definitely call that stealing the show.
CarDoor was smart and advertised near garages & dealerships
Have you ever been driving down the street and caught yourself daydreaming about a nice, new, shiny car? We know we have, and CarDoor’s online car-buying and trading platform would make the process easier.
What we love about their DOOH campaign is the way they utilize location to target potential buyers. CarDoor knows that most people decide they want a new car when they start to experience problems (we all know those dreaded sounds and warning signals) while driving their current vehicle. With this info, they bought DOOH space in high-density areas in close proximity to auto repair shops and dealerships – sometimes going a step further and buying billboards directly on the roofs of these locations. Another great use of location is displaying ads in test centers to target the Gen Zs waiting to take their driving tests. We think this whole campaign is a great example of using location to target the right people.
Cook it’s Occupation Double partnership was smart and contextual
Delcious food AND reality TV? What could be better than that? Canadian meal kit company Cook it definitely understood what the people want with their recent DOOH campaign in partnership with popular Quebec reality show Occupation Double.
With the partnership, Cook it sponsored the contestants’ weekly meals, which subscribers could then purchase and cook at home. Their corresponding DOOH ads that ran across the province promoted their recipes using creatives that were based on what was happening on each week’s episode. The ads were adapted each week to display the latest messaging based on factors like recipe changes or the latest TV drama. It’s smart, contextual messaging, and we love it.
BBC’s A Perfect Planet was a fiery reminder of nature’s fragility
All the credit in the world to BBC for regularly rolling out impeccably designed OOH experiences. That this one, in particular, was in service of such an important message just made it all the sweeter.
This campaign was a multiphase approach. First, appealing images of animals living their best lives in the wild were displayed, accompanied only by the title of the show – A Perfect Planet. But phase two involved creating an artful tear in the artwork, revealing scenes of the same environment beset by damage and disaster, along with a modified message. “A Perfect Planet – But for How Long?”
The contrasting visuals quite quickly impart the urgency and anxiety of the situation, but for one installation, they were also accompanied by a smoke machine that gave off the impression that the billboard itself was on fire. It’s an incredible creative effort that shows off what can be done when you think outside the box with OOH.
KLM got crafty in promoting its free cancellation policy
Travel continued to be a bit of a weird thing in 2021. Among the many reasons for this was the fear that a trip would be booked and then one of the travelers might fall ill, or else the shifting landscape of the pandemic would necessitate canceling the trip.
Wanting to reassure potential travelers, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines released an OOH campaign that could identify the sound of coughing and sneezing nearby. Upon detecting a matching noise, the ad nearby would switch from advertising a sunny destination to offering a sympathetic message to the ill party and reminding them that KLM offers free cancellation.
We love this because it’s a great blend of creativity, technical smarts, and a message that resonates well in the continued uncertainty we’re all facing. Very nicely done.
Marmite Dynamite Chilli stopped us in our tracks
We can’t lie: this one made us do a double-take (as any great OOH ad should). The UK-based ad featured a simple billboard promoting its famous Marmite chilli spread – but with a twist.
Right in front of the ad was a flying lid set to look like it had exploded and punctured the windshield of a parked car. This was set alongside the slogan “Love it. Hate it. Be careful with it.”
We love this ad for its unique and high-impact way of promoting the explosiveness of its chilli spread. Despite its simple creatives, we can definitely say that it packed a punch.
Castle Double Malt gave away beer via QR codes
QR codes were here, then they mostly weren’t, and now they really are again. They’re popping up everywhere for use in some pretty creative ways. Case in point: this ad for Castle Double Malt.
Castle’s new offering was South Africa’s first double malt beer, and to promote its new offering, Castle installed a pair of billboards in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Each include a QR code which could be scanned, directing the audience to a page where they could sign up in a contest to win a free case of the new beer.
The campaign was a hit on social media, with many sharing selfies taken in front of the billboards, and it’s the kind of thing people like to do. Who doesn’t want to take a shot at winning something new?
Klarna told us that ‘Millenials are useless with money’
We love ads that break stereotypes, and Klarna’s ‘Millenials are useless with money’ campaign did just that. With an eye-catching pink background and bold text that immediately grabbed the attention of passerbys, the financial services company used the ad to deliver factual messaging that millennials are actually saving more money than older generations.
According to Klarna, the goal of this OOH campaign was to challenge social stereotypes like ‘millennials are irresponsible’ and ‘pink is for girls’. We think the campaign did a great job of highlighting changing consumer preferences and societal advancements. On behalf of all millennials, thank you, Klarna.
A billboard in Roxbury became home to local art
We often talk about billboards being “enormous canvases” for creative ideas, so it was nice to see one in Roxbury, USA live up to that idea for pure artistic reasons this year.
A project initiated by local resident Dayenne Walters, the billboard became a place for artists to spread joy through art delivered on a larger scale than most artists are used to working with. There’s no real profit motive at play; just a desire to give to artists and the community they live in. Not a bad way to use a billboard.
Canada Housing Crisis snarked about Canada’s Housing Crisis (and we loved it)
The Canadian housing crisis is having a huge impact on anyone looking to buy a home, and especially those in major cities. CanadaHousingCrisis.com sought to raise awareness on the topic with this satirical billboard in Toronto. The idea is that the housing market is so unaffordable that even working millennials with full salaries often have to ask their parents for substantial help in buying their first home.
The billboard was part of a campaign by Canada Housing Crisis that wanted to push politicians for more equal housing policies across major Canadian cities. According to Raphael Morin, the group’s moderator, the ad was meant to show aspiring homeowners that they’re not alone. We can get behind that.
Manhattan Mini Storage to New York: “Unclutter your apartment”
While some people may choose to refer to their New York City apartment as quaint, cute, or even homey, Manhattan Mini Storage chose to call it like it is by playing on the woes of living in the city in a humorous way.
The OOH ad not-so-subtly reminded New Yorkers that their living space is limited (to say the least) as a way of promoting their self-storage services. We love this ad for its simple yet humorous message that we think really resonates with people who would love a little extra room.
Bumble mumbled the Star Wars theme to bring people together
Calling Star Wars fans looking for love: Bumble just reminded us that there are millions of singles out there who love Star Wars too.
With its eye-catching black and yellow billboard, dating app Bumble managed to play on its own name while mimicking the theme song of one of the most popular movies on the planet. The attention-grabbing ad was placed in high traffic areas to promote the fact that its algorithm matches people based on shared interests, like pop culture.
In our opinion, Bumble’s ability to promote its app in a creative, non-cheesy way is an automatic win. Bonus points for the fact we’ll now be humming Star Wars for the rest of the week.
Goldfish #FeedImagination was cute and made us hungry
Children are the future. Are they the future of OOH advertising too? After seeing the latest OOH campaign from Goldfish, we definitely think so. As part of the brand’s #FeedImagination campaign, Goldfish invited parents to submit their children’s artwork to be selected for display across billboards and transit shelters across the country.
The campaign’s mission was to encourage creativity in the minds of young Canadians by letting their imagination run wild. Five kids between the ages of 4 and 11 were given the opportunity to have their artwork displayed in a large, colourful way. Each billboard showcasing the brand’s signature Goldfish logo along with the #FeedImagination hashtag – a reminder that snacktime is important in fueling young minds. When it comes to displaying children’s artwork, we can all agree that this beats the kitchen fridge.
Michael from Fiverr created free ads
Here’s the typical deal with Fiverr: You go to the site, you find a person who offers a service you want, and you pay them a relatively low fee to provide said service. Often $5.
But with the pandemic upending everything, Fiverr decided to roll out a fun promotion to grab some attention and provide locals a boost to their own businesses. They got a guy, Michael, to sit at a desk on a platform next to a billboard and create ads in real-time for selected businesses.
Billboards that rely on a person being a part of the installation are always fun to see, and there’s something really appealing about Michael turning his career into a performance for a day.
Maya Jama got a glow-up with an illuminated 3D mural
Full disclosure: We don’t really know much about Maya Jama or the BBC show “Glow Up.” But we were still blown away by the look of this billboard.
Promoting her new role as host of Glow Up, the installation was already a visual treat, a lifelike representation of Maya there for passers-by to enjoy. But for one night, the installation had a 3D image of a flower painted in light overtop of the existing design. It was a stunning transformation – just the sort of thing the show itself is rooted in – and a great example of how to turn an already great billboard installation into an event. Introduce a little scarcity and an ad can become a must-see.
A simple billboard reminded drivers to change lanes for bikes
As more people in more places have taken to cycling as their default mode of transportation, there have been what we will generously call “growing pains.” Cyclists are not always as careful (or law-abiding) as drivers would like, but drivers, too, aren’t always as generous in sharing the road as they ought to be.
Road signs are one thing, but we like that this billboard in Las Vegas took things a step further. It’s an enormous canvas for a simple message aimed at drivers who may not be aware, or may not have remembered, that they legally must change lanes to accommodate cyclists. We bet drivers saw it.
A London billboard offered a walk-by-drive-thru McFlurries experience
There’s just something about the idea of a “walking drive-thru” that we really like. And how smart is it to make it a part of a billboard display?
With this ad, passers-by were able to walk up to a window staffed by a McDonald’s worker and collect a refreshing treat for free. The window itself is carved out of a large, ground-level billboard that honestly looks fairly plain, but not in a bad way. The entire feel is clearly inspired by what it is like to drive along the side of a restaurant while in line at the drive-thru. And yet again, real people incorporated into a billboard! We’re excited to see if this becomes a bigger trend next year.
A billboard in Finland announced that CBD was not for sale
Cannabis-derived products have had a decent few years, thanks to an increased discussion of their relative safety and the potential benefits they might impart, particularly when their dominant chemical is CBD.
But cannabis products remain illegal, or partly legal, or in any number of other halfway states around the world. It makes it difficult for the burgeoning cannabis industry to grow in the way it would like, and also brought us this fun OOH ad.
The Finland-based YSUB, which makes CBD beverages, took a novel approach to this problem, posting billboards for a cannabis-derived CBD product and proclaiming that it is not for sale. Visitors to the website will find a similar message there, alongside a hemp-derived CBD beverage that is actually buyable.
Taking no sides on the question of cannabis’ legality, we just like the novelty of dropping a billboard for a product that cannot be sold. It’s the kind of counterintuitive approach that gets people talking, and especially when you choose OOH as your delivery method.