Creative champions: Winning hearts, minds and awards in OOH

Brave ideas capture people’s attention and demand a response, because they simply can’t be ignored.

The 2021 awards season has concluded, and the most prestigious shows announced their winners. Awards are a barometer of the health of our industry, and help us find tomorrow’s ideas to reset the creative bar and move the industry forward. 

Posters are the purest distillation of the creative process, demanding simplicity, style and drama. They are the only true mass medium left. You can’t turn them over, block them, tune them out or switch them off. If they’re really good, you certainly can’t ignore them.

At this year’s awards shows,  juries looked for ideas that helped brands move with culture. Breakthrough, daring, fearless ideas that reflect the people we are ultimately trying to inspire. 

Brave ideas capture people’s attention and demand a response, because they simply can’t be ignored. Winning ideas inherently involve some risk, but without risk there’s no reward -- and the rewards are infinitely greater for brave ideas that stand out.

As a result, pandemic-related work did capture the juries’ hearts and minds at many of the major award shows. A few innovative brands asked, ‘What can we do to help?’

Dove, for example, evolved its long-running ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ to demonstrate that beauty isn’t how you look, but what you do. ‘Courage is Beautiful’ showcased powerful portraits of frontline healthcare workers, wearing the physical and emotional toll of the pandemic on their faces. Striking images of faces bruised by protective masks grabbed people by the eyeballs. 

The powerful outdoor campaign launched Unilever’s commitment to donate $5 million to healthcare workers globally. Beautiful in its simplicity, it included digital billboards strategically placed near hospitals. The frontline workers’ sacrifice and courage epitomized the true meaning of beauty, and deserved to be honored.

On-trade is one of Heineken’s biggest partners – bars, restaurants, hotels, cafés. But during the pandemic, it was struggling like never before.

The brand’s ‘Shutter Ads’ campaign from Italy epitomized COVID-19 creative thinking. Heineken turned shutters over locked down bars into media space by paying bar owners to post Heineken ads on them. It required the brand to shift the way it buys media, redirecting OOH budgets to the shutters of 5,000+ of the world’s most famous and loved bars. 

This idea not only did good, but it was commercially smart. Independent bars are important distributors for Heineken, and helping them weather the pandemic emotionally connected the brand to bar owners. ‘Shutters’ raised awareness and redistributed €7.5M to bars involved. This symbiotic relationship will pay dividends in the long run.

Visual drama and exquisite art direction also lit up award show jury rooms. Juries were looking for fresh, original, transformative ideas that displayed originality, lateral thinking and skilled execution. 

Burger King used billboards to show the different stages of a decomposing Whopper over a 35-day period. ‘Moldy Whopper,’ a brave, powerful dramatization of the chain’s signature sandwich, resonated with the juries. This visually bold idea stops people in their tracks and rewards them for their time and intelligence.  

Another jury favorite was a cheeky outdoor campaign, ‘Only Keep the Best of France,’ and limited edition packaging for Le Chocolat des Francais. This beautifully crafted campaign pays tribute to the life we hope to return to soon, with the good and bad times that makes France so charming. The brand collaborated with over 500 artists to release more than 1,000 signed chocolate bars.

Great brands have unmistakable identities. They capture the human spirit. They are delightfully simple. They move people to act. The Red Cross’s purpose is to prevent human suffering in the face of emergency. When everyone else runs away, the Red Cross runs towards the heart of it. It’s eye-catching ‘Run. For. Life’ campaign demonstrates, powerfully and simply, the impact the organization has on the world.

You can’t ignore brilliant out of home. There’s a beauty and power that other platforms cannot offer. Take this year’s OBIE Awards top honor for Google Brand Studios ‘The Most Searched, which honored the icons and moments that have been searched most in the U.S. to celebrate ‘Black history makers’ during Black History Month. Posters require more ingenuity than other mediums to convert roadside and street wallpaper into powerful communication. This campaign is a prime example.

Successful brands and clients require not only sensitivity and understanding, but also a greater degree of bravery and creative intuition than ever before. 

July kicks off the 2022 awards year. The OBIEs will celebrate its 80th anniversary. I’m looking forward to seeing fresh outdoor ideas that set a new benchmark in communication –– dynamic ideas that capture people’s imagination and attention, and win hearts and minds.

Mark Tutssel is the former executive chairman and global chief creative officer at Leo Burnett and creative ambassador to the OAAA.

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