Our 14 favourite billboard ads of 2018

Our 14 favourite billboard ads of 2018

Rob Côté  |  

The past year has been a great one for billboard ads, with all kinds of creative campaigns pushing the envelope of what is possible with static and digital billboards.

To round up the year, we thought we’d call out some of our favourite examples of great campaigns that pushed the medium forward, presented in no particular order.

Emergency Route – JCDecaux

Even a few seconds can make a difference in an emergency, which makes the chronic traffic congestion that plagues so many cities a huge problem for emergency responders. In São Paulo, traffic can stretch for up to 200 kilometers.

With “Emergency Route,” JCDecaux harnessed the visibility of roadside billboards to create advance notice of upcoming emergency vehicles. This gives drivers more time to free up a lane for emergency vehicles to get by, potentially saving a life.

Why we love this campaign: There’s real practical utility to this campaign, and it could help solve what has been a stubborn challenge for populous areas. It’s a great example of how digital displays can be harnessed to create real benefit in people’s lives.

The Grinch Movie – The Grinch Roasts the World

He’s a mean one, that Grinch, and he’s taken his Mount Crumpit ‘tude far from home to let the citizens of the world know what he really thinks of them. Big, bold, and Grinch-green, the billboards for this campaign got a ton of attention on and offline, with people cackling at the green guy’s witty putdowns.

Why we love this campaign: Playful roasting is fun for everyone, especially when the jokes are as on-point as many of the ones in this Grinch movie campaign. Chalk this one up as one of the most fun campaigns we saw this year.

A green billboard with the Grinch's face on the right-hand side. The Grinch is green, furry, with a big, cruel smile on his face. Next to his face, in quotes, are the words "Of course you'll make it as an actor." The billboard appeared in Los Angeles, which has an abundance of out-of-work actors.

Playful messages like this one made the Grinch movie billboards a big hit.

Hiscox – CyberLive Campaign

Privacy and data security were at the core of some of this year’s top news stories, but the true extent of the threat of cyber attacks is seldom discussed. To shed a little light on this issue, Hiscox put together a neat billboard campaign that helps viewers visualize ongoing cyber attacks in real time.

Why we love this campaign: Digital security affects us all, and the more people understand the scope and scale of why it matters, the better prepared society will be for attacks and challenges to come. That this campaign shows off the power of data-driven DOOH makes it even more special to us.

McDonald’s – Follow the Arches

Smaller brands would kill to have the kind of recognizability that McDonald’s enjoys, and that’s probably especially true in the wake of their brilliant “Follow the Arches” campaign this year.

With clever cropping of their famous golden arches, McDonald’s was able to create location-specific directions to guide travelers to nearby restaurants.

Why we love this campaign: When utility, novelty, and distinct branding collide as they did here, you know you’re onto something pretty special. That this campaign provides localized information and can work in pretty much any country makes it an even bigger win.

Peugeot – Corporate minivans

Here’s a nice win for programmatic DOOH. Peugeot wanted to promote its line of corporate minivans, and it wanted to do so in a big way. By harnessing the power of programmatic transactions, Peugeot was able to buy screen space only at those times when its desired audience was most likely to be on the road.

Why we love this campaign: We’ll admit we’re a little biased here—this campaign ran on our programmatic software, Broadsign Reach—but that’s not the only reason we think it’s great. There’s some clever work with traffic data at play here, and it’s just fun to see roadside billboards start incorporating programmatic DOOH.

A truck driving down the highway, with a billboard for Peugeot's corporate minivans in the background. The campaign was delivered programmatically on Broadsign Reach.

A programmatic billboard campaign helped Peugeot connect with business owners more effectively

Facebook – Here Together

Facebook has had a rough couple of years, so the fact that the company wanted to make a large gesture to address the concerns of its customers was not surprising. Their chosen method of delivery, however, was pretty interesting.

Instead of just relying on its own ad platform, Facebook bought up billboards, poster space, TV ad time, and more besides to get its message in front of the world. It got lots of attention and lots of press… just perhaps not entirely because of what Facebook said.

Why we love this campaign: It’s the story behind the story that we love so much. Facebook is one of the largest digital advertising platforms in the world. The fact that when they had an important message, they chose to make out-of-home advertising one of their media of delivery says a lot about its benefits. There’s no ad-blocking with outdoor advertising and no “below the fold” to worry about—just a big canvas with which to share an important message.

A bus shelter with the words "Fake news is not your friend" on the side. This is an example of Facebook's "Better Together" campaign, which appeared online, on TV, on Billboards, and other places out of the home.

Billboard and other out-of-home ads were used by Facebook to promote its efforts to improve its platform.

Alexis Ohanian Sr. – G.M.O.A.T.

Alexis Ohanian Sr. is the cofounder and executive chairman of Reddit, a relatively new out-of-home business owner, and the husband of tennis legend Serena Williams. Proud of his wife’s accomplishments and wanting to offer a little extra encouragement for her return to tennis earlier this year, Alexis bought a handful of billboards that declared Serena the G.M.O.A.T.—greatest momma of all time.

Why we love this campaign: Billboards won’t be right for every couple, but Serena seemed to like the gesture, so we like it too. It’s not often that billboards are used as an expression of love, so when they are, we all rightly take notice.

A large pink sign with a photo of tennis player Serena Williams and her daughter Alexis Ohanian Jr. Next to the photo are the letters "G.M.O.A.T." standing in for "Greatest Momma of all Time."

Alexis Ohanian’s billboard love letter to his wife Serena Williams was a sweet highlight of the year in OOH.

KFC Hong Kong – Hot and Spicy

You may need a double-take before catching what KFC did here. With (carefully lit) spicy, crispy chicken standing in for flames trailing a car, shooting from a rocket, and swelling up behind a team of superheroes, these billboards are eye-catching at any size, but particularly when blown up to the size of a billboard.

Why we love this campaign: We think that creative use of an iconic image to create a cool billboard is always great, but there’s something about the fact that this image is of chicken, yet unmistakably KFC’s chicken, that seems even better to us.

A racecar driving down a track with what appears to be flames coming from behind it. A closer look reveals the flames are actually a piece of chicken.

Replacing flames with spicy chicken made for a memorable campaign from KFC.

Broadsign – Light up the World

Another campaign from us, but trust us—this one is something.

We walked into Digital Signage Expo last year with a bold new brand identity to show off, and a big idea for how to do it: deliver our ad to Harmon Corner programmatically. And it went great! We were able to deliver the campaign with no fuss, and even modify it in real time throughout our stay at DSE.

Why we love this campaign: Selfishly, we love it because it was big, it was bold, and it had Broadsign all over it. Unselfishly, we think it was a great example of the power of programmatic DOOH to deliver big things.

The enormous Harmon Corner screen in Las Vegas. It is displaying the Broadsign name and logo on a blue background.

We’re still tickled by how well our programmatic campaign at Harmon Corner went this year.

Budweiser & Jim Beam – Repeal Day

Prohibition was, to put it mildly, an unsuccessful experiment. Its repeal 85 years ago was a cause for celebration, and Budweiser and Jim Beam decided that applies to this day. They did a fun little campaign where they put up billboards near competitors’ offices, inviting those competitors to come share a friendly drink to celebrate “repeal day.”

Why we love this campaign: Maybe we’re just sentimental suckers, but there’s something nice about extending an olive branch, regardless of whether doing so is a calculated move by somebody’s marketing team. That there’s a bit of an educational aspect to this campaign—who was keeping track of how long it’s been since prohibition ended?—makes it even better.

A mobile billboard parked out in front of the Samuel Adams building. Its message: "Dear Sam Adams, Repeal Day is in the constitution. Sam would have wanted this. See you at the bar on Dec. 5th. Cheers, Bud."

Budweiser and Jim Beam’s repeal day appeals were wholesome examples of effective billboard ads.

Twitter – The NYC Tweet Showcase

For all its struggles as a social network, Twitter’s managed to build and maintain a position as the megaphone of the internet. Still, sometimes you want your messages to go out a little louder than can be managed in a window on a computer or phone screen, and so Twitter bought up some billboard space in Times Square to take their tweets to the streets.

Why we love this campaign: Tweets have a pretty iconic look, and seeing that look out on a massive billboard certainly captures attention on a visual level. Similar to the aforementioned Facebook campaign, we also like that this is another example of a major digital advertising brand choosing to boost its voice by using out-of-home advertising.

A busy New York City street with various billboards around. One looks like a giant Tweet with the words "Is this thing on?"

When Twitter wanted to make sure its message was received, it blew its Tweets up and put them on NYC billboards.

Outdoor Advertising Association of America – #GetOutofHome

What better way to advertise out-of-home advertising than with out-of-home advertising? For this campaign, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America went out and proved the power of its medium by buying up digital signage, static billboards, taxi-top displays, and a whole lot more besides. Their message: If marketers want the perfect complement to digital advertising, #GetOutofHome.

Why we love this campaign: In case you haven’t caught on yet, we’re really big on out-of-home advertising. We think the medium is a perfect way to reach huge communities of people and we’ve been beyond excited to see how much momentum has built up in the out-of-home space of late. Taking that message to the OOH space is not only one of the most effective ways to promote it, it’s also fun. We like it.

A busy city street with digital billboards around. On one, with a reddish background, is text that says "Set Your Digital Campaign Free #GetOutofHome."

With its clever campaign aimed at marketers, the OAAA did a great job of promoting OOH advertising.

Spotify – Wrapped

Spotify’s annual end-of-year billboard campaign is always a gift, and this year is no exception. Digging into its data to reveal the bizarre or hilarious listening habits of its users makes for genius, oh-so relatable billboards every time. Who among us, after all, doesn’t have listening habits that would be questionable to others?

Our favourite for this year: comparing the total number of playlists created with the name Laurel (3,754) and Yanny (1,059). The people of Spotify have spoken.

Why we love this campaign: Individual moments or actions may not seem all that interesting in isolation, but pulled together as part of a trend, they can take on interesting new significance and appeal. It’s easier than ever to gather data and integrate them into funny or clever out-of-home campaigns, and Spotify’s work is a great example of why it should be done.

A plain yellow billboard with pink text. The text says that 3,754 playlists were created with the name "Laurel," vs. 1,059 with the name "Yanny."

There were a lot of clever Spotify billboards this year. This was our favourite.

Ford Mustang – Pony Personalizer

The Ford Mustang logo is among the more recognizable icons of the auto industry, and one that gets many gearheads excited. To celebrate that passion, Ford created a tool called the “Pony Personalizer,” where fans could go online and create their own takes on the Mustang logo. Standouts were then translated to huge digital billboards for the world to see and enjoy.

Why we love this campaign: Finding ways to involve your audience in a campaign can be a great way to drum up enthusiasm and attention. By asking for a little participation, this campaign was in turn able to create a campaign that both gets the word out about its brand and celebrates its passionate community at the same time. And what better place to do that than on a giant billboard by the side of the road?

A dark street with a billboard overhead. The billboard is split in four different colours, each with a different fan-created Ford Mustang logo in front of it.

Ford celebrating its fan community with billboards made for a great campaign.

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