OOH – Not Just For Sales

billboard of a line of elephants walking with the text "55 killed a day help us stop their march to extinction"

When you hear the word “advertising”, you will most likely associate it with a product or service. However, the industry is much more than just  boosting sales. As people’s attention on global matters and social issues becomes more and more fixated, many organizations and companies have realized and used advertising, especially OOH, to their advantages in grabbing the public’s attention on their branding and the message they carry. This article will introduce a collection of 8 examples to demonstrate just how powerful a message can be with the help of OOH.

Human Rights

While the fight for equality and human rights has come a long way over the centuries, it’s still a fight that is ever ongoing. Outdoor advertising is considered to be one of the most effective ways to reach a mass audience, as well as leave a lasting impression on the viewers’ minds, which is the main goal of any campaign, not just those that are advocating for social justice. With OOH acting like a giant megaphone, it demands the attention of the public towards the reality and the messages sent out.

“I Will Act” – Zambezi’s powerful message

When the Black Lives Matter movement started back in May, Zambezi – a female-owned agency based in L.A. – was one of the first organizations to speak up in support of the call for racial justice. They partnered up with Quan Media and ran a powerful outdoor campaign for the whole month. Several billboards, posters, and mobile ads were put out with a pitch-black background alongside the campaign’s slogan, “I Will Act,” and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter at the bottom. Moreover, the billboards and posters had different messages such as, “My solidarity is action,” or, “My shock isn’t enough,” in all caps. The simple yet straight-to-the-point and visually dynamic signs certainly became an important effort in the ongoing fight for POC rights.

3 billboards in black background and bold white text, saying "My shock isn't enough", "My silence is deadly", "My solidarity is action", from left to right. All with the project name "I Will Act" and the hastag #blacklivesmatter at the bottom right

Look At Me

Another aspect of human rights and equality is the fight against domestic abuse. In 2014, the independent organization called Women’s Aid, with the help of Ocean Outdoor,  created a giant interactive billboard located on a busy street in London. The billboard featured a severely bruised woman with a giant text next to her saying, “Look at me.”, and, “We can stop it.”. What’s interesting about this is how it tracked live motion and facial expressions of passersby. Only when people looked up to engage with the ad could the woman’s wounds start to heal. Not stopping there, Women’s Aid continued to put up more posters and billboards across the country.

The campaign was shocking and powerful and garnered tremendous results. It was later reported that the average time people interacted with the posters compared to other campaigns was significantly higher and the entire campaign reached over 300 million people, becoming a widespread phenomenon everywhere for a long time.

digital billboard showing a bruised woman with the text "Look at me" and "Don't turn a blind eye."

Environment

One of the most pressing global issues in today’s climate is the environment, which includes a wide range of topics including climate change, wildlife, and pollution. Recent years have seen drastic changes in the climate as a result of humans over-extorting natural resources through massive wildfires, floods, abnormal weather like snow in the summer, and more. This calls for a change in action, and it starts with spreading awareness.

Denver Water’s “Use only what you need” Campaign

In an effort to capture people’s attention and raise awareness about saving natural resources, in particular clean water, Denver Water launched a city-wide creative campaign in 2015. With the slogan also being the campaign’s name, “Use only what you need”, the company put up their message around the city in various forms – hydrant models to tell you how much water to use for your lawn versus how much you actually need, or benches with only one side built, or even a car with only the interior functional parts. The shining white text on a bright orange background combined with innovative and fun signs, definitely caught the public’s eye. Consequently, this campaign succeeded in encouraging people to be more mindful of climate change on a daily basis and understand the impact they can have on the environment. Using a simple message and an outstanding execution, the goal was achieved.

billboard on the left with the sculpture of a running faucet, billboard on the right with the sculpture of a cloud raining. Both with the text "You can't make this stuff. So please use only what you need."

#StopThePlastic

One of the best yet most harmful creations of human history is the invention of plastic. While it has become tremendously useful and essential in various fields, the downside is the unimaginable amount of waste getting thrown back into nature, especially the type of single-use plastic that has found its way into the oceans.

To combat this, Corona has joined forces with the non-government organization Parley for the Oceans to execute one of the most innovative outdoor displays. Using over 1,500kg of plastic that the team had gathered on the local beaches earlier that year, they have created a giant plastic wave in Melbourne’s Federation Square on June 8, which is World Ocean Day. In the background, they also put up a billboard featuring one of Australian biggest stars, Chris Hemsworth, riding the wave next to the text, “Where’d you rather be?” Corona’s Global Manager, Kevin Bell, expressed that the company’s main goal was to “show consumers that you’re making an impact and that there is a solution,” through their 100 islands ocean-cleaning project and the visible result through the wave sculpture.

The campaign caught on fast with the locals and the hashtag #StopThePlastic went on to become a viral phenomenon and definitely succeeded in gaining public attention.

Giant plastic wave with a billboard behind, showing a man surfing in the real ocean and the text "From where you'd rather be?"

Health and Wellbeing

Health is also one pressing issue in today’s society. While it’s no longer taboo to discuss the matter of better healthcare, continuing to raise awareness and getting people talking about their mental wellbeing is still an important mission, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

#AloneTogether

Even at the earlier stages of Covid, the Ad Council and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had predicted the severity of this virus and wanted to raise awareness among Americans. Teaming up with OOH leaders like Clear Channel Outdoor, OAAA, and Circle Graphics, several billboards were put up around the country, with bright backgrounds and bold texts. The messages they carried focused on urging people to stay home in order to slow down the spread of Covid-19, along with the hashtag #AloneTogether. Additionally, the campaign also ran ads on other advertising mediums, all with important and up-to-date information on the crisis to help ease the public’s fear.

Billboard with light purple background and black text "Staying home saves lives." and the hashtag #AloneTogether

Who Can Relate?

In 2018, the University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services worked with OutFront Media to make an impactful OOH campaign to open up the talk about mental health and their, “Who Can Relate?” week-long events on campus. The billboard that was raised featured a teenager in the middle with the stylized bold text behind saying, “You Are Not Alone”, together with the link to the event whocanrelate.org. The aim of the campaign was to spread the word about the event to the public in the cities of Detroit, Ann Arbor, New York City, and Los Angeles, assisting in the effort of getting young people to be more open about their mental struggles and seek help.

Billboard of a teenager with glasses, and the text "You are not alone" in white behind

Spreading Positivity

With more pressing social issues and global matters affecting our lives, it’s essential to take a breather and be reminded of the good things in our everyday lives, however small. The two campaigns below are all about spreading positivity and kindness in the hope of cheering everyone on and restoring a sense of faith in humanity.

#SendingLove

As the news about the pandemic is dreadful more often than not, Grant Visual has partnered up with Talon Outdoor to launch a global OOH campaign – “#SendingLove”, in order to promote kind and caring messages to everyone during these trying times. The campaign took advantage of digital OOH technology to do so, by letting people who donated to the COVID-19 Solidary Response Fund to have a photo displayed in public in a city of their choice with the hashtag. The campaign got support from various streams of media and resulted in the participation of more than 70 media owners in over 150 cities around the world. This was considered to be one of the biggest user-generated content campaigns of all time.

Giant digital billboard showing a photo of 2 hands making a heart and  the message on teh left saying "#SendingLove to London, United Kingdom, from Norway"

Grateful Britain

Going hand-in-hand with the public effort to slow down the spread of Covid is the tremendous sacrifice of frontline workers. To honor and send gratitude to these groups of heroes, the U.K.’s OOH industry said thank you in the best way they know how – through outdoor advertisements. The collaboration between Mother and Grand Visual was named, “Grateful Britain,” and included a series of digital billboards with rhyming lines, calling out various roles of key workers in a warming and light-hearted manner. The campaign ran across several retail locations and roadside placements to best reach their target audience, that being the people who work tirelessly around the clock and risk their lives to get the nation going.

Digital billboard with plain white background and the text "Thank you to our croc wearin', patient carin', stethoscope colelctin', letter postin', prescription filling', shelf stackin', lorry drivin', loo roll deliverin' heroes."

Conclusion

It’s been proven through these examples that social issues can take advantage of outdoor advertising, just like any other company with their products and services, to help raise awareness in serious social matters and spark the discussion to better the world and our society. With the effectiveness of OOH as well as a good strategy, these messages can easily reach the mass public and leave a powerful impression.

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