How OOH Advertising Can be an Effective Storytelling Device

coca cola moving billboard

Brands are always looking for ways to make their products and services stand out in their respective market. Some look to connect with their audience through elements like emotional appeal, repetition, or symbolism—but what’s one advertising technique that combines these strategies and is quickly gaining traction in 2021? Across the board, the answer to this question is storytelling.

Put simply, “the human mind is designed to latch on to facts and opinions that are narrated in the form of a story”. Abstract ideas are more easily retained and recalled when presented in a sequential, entertaining manner and this concept is further proved within the realm of marketing. Take a paper towel ad for example, it would be much harder to remember a new brand of paper towel if it was unsuccessful at differentiating itself from the competition. That being said, introducing that same product while utilizing storytelling devices will likely get the response you’re looking for.

Brands Utilizing Storytelling: Coca-Cola

We can see this strategy most famously with Coca-Cola. While Coke has created quite the portfolio of campaigns since the company’s inception, one in particular takes the cake in depicting this strategy. For a century now, Santa and the infamous soda brand have embarked on a successful “partnership” throughout the holiday season. Their holiday-themed advertisements depict the familiar rosy-cheeked man holding a chilled bottle of Coke. Since the first Santa ad was published in 1931, customers have been looking forward to the latest illustration of Kris Kringle. That, in essence, is what makes storytelling an indispensable tool for businesses—it makes your audience want more.

Over the years, Coca-Cola  has used a variety of mediums to showcase their holiday Santa, one especially relevant channel is their mobile advertising trucks. Decked-out with Christmas lights, including the infamous holiday mascot, the Coke truck drives through the streets bringing truckloads of cheer. Coined the “Christmas Caravan” in a 1995 visual, the truck has become so much more than just an ad when years after the iconic commercials, the Caravan came to life starting with a trip across the USA. Today, the Caravan has reached international territory, visiting Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Seemingly each facet of the Coca-Cola holiday campaign is meticulously thought-through— creating a heart-warming and compelling story. Coke themselves admit to their holiday advertising as being an intrinsic component to their long-term growth. We can see the success of their mobile advertising trucks in the UK, where from 2011-15, approximately 3.5 million visitors came to see the truck, translating to some of the highest engagement rates for any advertising campaign.


A Technique for All Businesses—Not Just the Larger Ones

Going back to the paper towel example from earlier, let’s consider a scenario whereby a new entrant has been introduced to the market—they’ll be competing against household names like Bounty, Sponge Towels, and Kirkland. On the surface, paper towel is a seemingly bland product and most people purchase the brand name because of familiarity or purely  based-off the price-point. But let’s exercise a scenario where we integrate the element of storytelling into the advertising campaign.

For this example, we’re going to play-off a popular Guinness ad that showcased the true story of a Japanese women’s rugby team in their “Made of more” campaign. In short, the ad displayed the team, covered in dirt, fighting for the championship. This ad exemplified defying gender expectations and negative social conventions, working seamlessly alongside  their “Made for more” campaign—which was an opportunity to display natural and authentic stories. This campaign played into the viewers emotions and was created to utilize different mediums, encouraging the audience to submerge  themselves into the story.

         In a study conducted on this very topic, the research shows some striking findings. Aside from a good brand story having the ability to attract customers and affect their internal memory—often associated with brand recall, “an effective story has been proven to be more impactful than price reductions”. This device works by involving the customer in the brand, playing-off their emotions, memories, and nostalgic responses. The Guinness campaign is no exception.

Now, what if the new paper towel company were to use a similar storytelling device in their campaign? This brand would be able to stand out from their competitors and offer a unique experience to their customers—that essential emotional component that has been shown, as mentioned, to be more impactful than price reductions.


Creating a Dynamic Story in OOH Advertising

One strength that OOH ads possesses is its real-life existence. While virtual ads can reach an expansive audience, OOH ads have the ability to immerse the user in the world they build. With the help of the five senses, marketers can leverage their advertising medium to make their campaign stand-out. “Instead of making claims, OOH brands allow the audience to interact with the story, building self-association with the brand within an exciting setting, when their senses are heightened”. Whether an ad is presented as a physical exhibit, a dynamic billboard, or a mobile advertisement, OOH can be utilized in a uniquely engaging way when presented through a story.

DOOH is another advertising method that presents interesting opportunities for storytelling. Data integration and dynamic messaging allow brands to “progressively tell the story to audiences in relevant urban environments, different parts of the city, and contextualize it in-real-time to match events. Moreover, brands are able to sync their social media to “build a personal connection by allowing them to interact with the storyline and their characters”.

Effective Storytelling in Mobile Advertising Trucks

Storytelling can look differently from one OOH medium to another, but one outlet with particularly lucrative opportunities is mobile advertising trucks. Earlier in the post, there was the famous Coca-Cola “Christmas Caravan,” but what are other prime examples of immersive truck advertising that play into dynamic and eye-catching story devices?


Upon the release of Jurassic World in 2018, Amazon embarked on a cross-channel marketing campaign to create buzz around the upcoming movie. Suited with air holes, the “Jurassic World” logo, and made to look like an Amazon box, this eye-catching advertising stunt was more than just a truck. Driving across LA, a press release announced that in the next upcoming days, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard—stars of the movies –  were to unbox the contents at The Grove shopping mall. Additionally, the #AmazonFindsAWay “directed curious customers to social media to follow the mystery and purchase tickets for the film”. If that isn’t creative enough, those with an Alexa, the Amazon voice assistant, were able to ask her for clues about the contents of the box, “unlocking a multi-part interactive experience featuring dinosaur sounds”.


Samsung’s Life-Saving Truck

Let’s imagine the all-too-familiar scenario of driving behind a semi-trailer truck. It’s going slower than you’d like, visibility to switch lanes is virtually nil, and overtaking this massive piece of machinery is a stressful and overwhelming task. Samsung recognized this issue, and in a country with higher than average traffic accidents, created a truck fitted with a wireless camera at the front to aid cars driving directly behind, to pass safely. While this was a brilliant marketing campaign, it also served as an innovative tech solution to a global issue; traffic accidents caused by low visibility from large trucks.


Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot

The UK branch of the German discount supermarket, Aldi, looked to mobile advertising trucks to get the word out around the holidays. This bright orange beast was hard to miss on the road and depicted their mascot Kevin, an anthropomorphic carrot that had been featured on television. Kevin was depicted as a cheeky-yet-joyful character and appealed to adults and children alike. In contrast with  Coca-Cola’s strategy, the truck wasn’t sent to specific locations to create buzz—instead, they used these 18-wheelers to deliver toys to their stores.

Those driving on the roads were able to spot the friendly orange carrot and immediately recognize him from the commercials. The marketing campaign was nothing short of a success, as Kevin the Carrot toys were flying off the shelves later that year.


Things to Keep in Mind

When creating your brand story, there are a few factors to keep in mind that are intrinsic to the success of your campaign. First and foremost, your brand story is quite simply just that—your brand story. When establishing the characters, timeline, and messaging, make sure to build these around your business. Your narrative should play into your  business mission and values along with the values of your customers. Second, the emotional mirror experience “begins and ends with empathy”. The concept of the emotional mirror is that people are more likely to purchase a product when they find themselves rooting for the protagonist in your brand story. Put simply, customers who are able to empathize with your protagonist—think the Japanese women’s rugby team in the Guinness ad, are more likely to want to relive the positive feelings associated with the story through purchasing your product. And lastly, take your customers on an emotional journey. Powerful brand stories are able to create a multi-layered emotional narrative, full of highs and lows. Look at the Coca-Cola Christmas Caravan for example, the truck is something of nostalgia and heart-felt sentiments. The century-old caricature is often seen with groups of kids, providing gifts for less-fortunate families, and bringing communities together.

All in all, each story is unique from one another because no two brands are the same. So, play off your business, think outside of the box, and above all, have fun!

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