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The Best Billboard Campaigns

dozens of digital billboards in New York

Some Background

When you hear the word 'advertising', there's a good chance you think of a billboard. A staple of the marketing world since the mid-19th century, billboards have gone from strength to strength as the world has roared on: electricity meant that they could now be lit at night; the birth of car culture gave them life outside major cities; and the emergence of the digital age meant that video and animation could enhance imagery beyond its traditional stillness.

 

It seems that whenever someone heralds their end, the billboard finds a way to adapt and improve. And, as a testament to their seemingly endless power, I decided to put together a list of billboard campaigns that should give us reason to think that this evolving medium is here to stay.

Panasonic Nose Trimmer

Incorporating real world elements into a billboard is always a risk and a challenge, but Saatchi and Saatchi Indonesia's concept for a Panasonic nose hair trimmer knocks the whole thing out of the park. It's an instantly eye-catching display that refuse to let you go through its use of the telephone wires that are often nothing more than an easily ignored staple of the inner city, and the artwork itself is powerfully minimalistic and to the point. More than anything else, though, this billboard works because you can't help but let out a little chuckle when you see its comical simplicity. The ability to make audiences pay attention to your billboard is good, but to make them laugh when advertising a painfully unfunny product is beyond impressive.

 

the panasonic nose hair billboard
day after tomorrow billboard in the sea

The Day After Tomorrow

For those of who you don't know, The Day after Tomorrow is a disaster film where the world freezes over, ruining the lives of populations everywhere. Pockets of people survive, though, and some end up trapped in New York as it floods and freezes over a matter of days.

 

To promote the film in Mumbai, the ad agency Contract decided to sink a billboard and a model of the Statue of Liberty in order to capture the feel of the movie - revealing nothing except when it came out and where you could see it. This campaign worked incredibly well in a bustling city like Mumbai, and undoubtedly contributed to the film achieving blockbuster sales upon its worldwide release.

Oreo Eclipse

Lunar eclipses are one of those moments where everything comes together in a seemingly perfect way. And, even though there's a rational, scientific explanation behind it, we seem to instinctively find them endlessly fascinating. Oreo commissioned Talon to take advantage of an upcoming eclipse, and they produced one of the most inspired displays in advertising history. Using data from the Royal Astronomical Society, they were able to match one of the Oreo cookies eclipsing the milky filling with the real eclipse blocking the sun. The results were, as you can expect, absolutely incredible. The streets of London and Edinburgh witnessed a dual eclipse that, I suspect, had them thinking of Oreo's every time someone mentioned the eclipse. Strong associations are at the heart of good marketing, and this display was a masterful example of why this is the case.

the oreo eclipse digital billboard
bbc's dracula billboard

BBC's Dracula

The BBC is world renowned for their storytelling ability and, when it was announced that yet another Dracula adaptation was in the works and would premiere on New Year's Day, people were palpably excited. When it came to advertising the show, however, the beeb decided to take a far bolder strategy than the one they were expected to go with.

 

Using a clever combination of shapes and lighting, they crafted a billboard that became progressively creepy as the day went on, slowly revealing the titular vampire's silhouette as the night descended. People passing by were mesmerised by this ingenious concept, and it no doubt got the show's release stuck in people's minds as the new year rolled around.

Lightbulb by the Economist

The Economist is the world's oldest and most renowned magazine covering economics, politics, and culture; priding itself as a proponent of free, open and critical discussions of culturally pressing ideas in a world of chaos and confusion. Although baked with rich appeal, summing up their mission statement can get a bit wordy at times. This works on people who are already interested, but magazines like The Economist are always looking to attract people who haven't really thought about reading their weekly coverage.

 

Sensing that a fresh perspective might be needed, the magazine hired Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to craft a billboard. The result was a simple yet powerful combination of the magazines signature red background, titular logo and giant lightbulb that magically lit up as you walked under it. The ideas-focus of the magazine couldn't have been captured better, and I'm confident that the billboard gave some people the bright idea that maybe The Economist is for them after all.

the economist lightbulb billboard
luna corona advert billboard

Luna Corona

Ever felt like spicing up your bottle of Corona with a slice of the moon? Well, even if you haven't, the minds at Corona Beer and Cramer-Krasselt certainly did when crafting their ingenious billboard. On specific, often unpredictable nights of the lunar cycle, the moon would align with the top of the corona bottle on their minimalistic billboard, making it look like the same moon was a slice of lemon.

 

Universities and planetariums were brought on board to make the alignment as perfect as possible but, even when the moon was absent, the billboard was still incredibly eye-catching. The anticipation alone was enough to draw people in and leave them wanting the classic Mexican beer.

BBC World: America

The BBC is world renowned for its dependability as a source of developing news and balanced judgement in all matters political, economic, scientific and cultural. There are countless stories from now middle aged men and women who, growing up in countries with heavily restricted media, would illegally tune into the nearest BBC World Service radio broadcast and get their only glimpse of what was actually happening around the world. Launching the new 24-hour news service 'BBC World', they decided to double down on their reputation and create a series of corner billboards that emphasise their expertise at revealing 'both sides of the story'. The billboard above is perhaps the best example of how powerful this campaign was in hammering home their capacity for balanced storytelling and convincing the American public that, if they want to get an honest picture of what's going on around the world, this new service is their best chance of getting it.

BBC World America two sides billboard
womens aid look at me billboard

Women's Aid: Look at Me

Violence against women is a quiet killer in modern Britain. Often occurring in the privacy of domestic households, women everywhere are subjected to endless physical and psychological abuse with little to no avenue of escape. Because the violence is easily hidden and habitually ignored, and because the women themselves are usually entrapped financially and socially, it takes the intervention of charities like Women's Aid to ensure that these women can be freed from what would otherwise be lifelong suffering and isolation.

 

To combat the way in which we all tend to brush the issue under the rug, Women's Aid launched the 'Blind Eye' billboard campaign to make sure that you can't go on ignoring it anymore. Featuring a bold, standalone image of an abused woman with the words 'look at me' and 'we can stop it' surrounding her, this campaign clearly wasn't about raising awareness; it was designed to stir everyday people into caring about the underbelly of abuse and realising that something can be done about it. Beyond all other billboards on this list, this one best showcases how they can completely shape the things we care about and, crucially, what we're going to do with that care.

Strong Tape

There's only so much you can say about tape before you start sounding silly. All competing tape products do the same thing, with varying success, and people often buy solely on the basis of what's available and what they're used to. Acknowledging all this, Penline worked with Euro RSCG in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to create a billboard that did away with all the faff and buzzwords and simply showcase the strength of the product itself.

 

The result, a billboard held up by the strength of the tape that it is advertising, has a simple, attractive power and perfectly gets the point across: our tape works. It's a hard billboard to miss and, because of its minimalism, an ever harder one to forget. It's also a testament to the fact that, sometimes, tried and tested approaches work out best.

strong tape billboard
kill bill blood billboard

Kill Bill

Kill Bill is a blockbuster film by Quentin Tarantino that, in keeping with his signature filmmaking style, is bloody, violent, and carried by an outstanding soundtrack. To advertise the film, which follows Uma Thurman's character 'The Bride' trying to escape and eventually kill her abusive ex-husband, Miramax teamed up with Saatchi and Saatchi in New Zealand and produced an outstanding billboard. The blood-spatter that spills from the billboard and out on to the street perfectly captures the untamed gore that the film unapologetically trades in, and its sheer boldness is enough to completely imprint the film in your memory when it comes to deciding what to do on any given empty evening. Whatever your feelings are about the gore, you can't argue that this inventive approach likely played a huge role in the film's local success.

The Takeaway

Well, there you have it. Those are the ten billboards that, at least to me, showcase why the medium is likely to live so long as marketing is needed. If you think that a billboard would work for your business, hop on over to our out of home advertising page and have a good look at what we can do for you.

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