Taking It to the street with renewed creativity — and greater impact

NBA Michelob Ultra and Microsoft Courtside ad

OOH demonstrates the brilliance of creatives who can distill a message to its singular intent.

I have long said that out of home (OOH) plays a key role in the marketing mix — and I am always excited to see the latest and greatest creative work highlighted at the annual OBIE Awards. This year, I am honored to chair the jury for the OAAA’s annual competition. 

Considering eligible campaigns ran during the pandemic, I was struck by the sheer number of entries — an increase of 40% over 2021, surpassing pre-pandemic years. 

This robust desire for recognition demonstrates the rising status of OOH as a catalyst for creativity in public spaces. The innovation and imagination behind these campaigns are proof that brands are not only “taking it to the street,” but signal a new era of boundless creativity.

OOH is highly visible and brands are increasing their investment in the medium to support innovative thinking and fresh ideas. The OOH toolkit — the palette creatives can use to bring their solutions to life — is incredibly diverse and constantly evolving. It can be overwhelming to keep track of as OOH continues its friendly rapport with technologies, from AR, VR and 3D, to data feeds, crowdsourcing and physical enhancements such as special paints, unique lighting and sophisticated embellishments.  

But this collection of instruments isn't the ticket for award-winning outcomes. OOH is, and always be, about ingenious ideas, flawlessly executed; work that is brilliant in its thinking and innovative in its expression; work that breaks the mold. If creativity can solve any business problem, OOH puts that hypothesis to the test, demonstrating the brilliance of creative people who can distill a message to its singular intent. 

Dynamic OOH captures people’s imagination and attention, creates a dialogue and becomes a ‘theater of the streets’ when the execution is honed within an inch of its life. This earns OOH the right to occupy public space, and the public is rewarded for giving their attention.

Amongst the 127 OBIE finalists, there were abundant unique examples of how brands deployed extra resources to elevate an idea and deliver added impact. 

Michelob ULTRA’s Courtside campaign used a mix of tools to re-imagine not just the potential and purpose of OOH, but more urgently, its first year as the NBA beer sponsor during COVID-19. The solution reinvented the live viewing experience with a Virtual Fan Wall  — large digital “billboards” mounted as front row game seats, powered by Microsoft Teams. 

While the execution was technically challenging, the access mechanism was democratic, immediate and easy. Fans simply scanned a Michelob bottle to win a seat — enabling people to “attend” games from home and putting celebrities side-by-side with regular fans who could share and talk to each other.  In this case, creativity and technology solved the problem of bringing joy to sports without fans at the games. 

In an unexpected combination of old and new techniques, Women’s brand Thinx added projection mapping to a hand-painted wall in its Absorbs Worries campaign. Originally designed as a digital billboard, the campaign superimposed a carefully mapped digital projection displaying 20 crowdsourced comments splattered onto its negative space, which then absorbed into a pair of larger-than-life Thinx front and center in the layout.  During the day the message read as a straight “billboard,” while the intriguing and surprising content played after sunset. 

Studios and streaming services got back into OOH as well last year. ABC created 3D sequential billboards for Pooch Perfect, Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time included a moving wheel on a giant LA billboard and HBO Max’s Gossip Girl simulcast a live fashion show on a billboard in Times Square. The public reacts to this kind of work because it adds to their daily journey.  

One of the unexpected outcomes of social media is the highly shareable nature of OOH. Brands have learned intriguing, surprising, stunning, relevant messaging is much more likely to get shared than more literal efforts. 

Discerning consumers have a zero-tolerance policy to unimaginative work. Creative brilliance is more powerful than ever, making average, risk-free work invisible. Brands understand this and are investing more in OOH as the largest creative canvas. They believe in making a statement — and are now beginning to better measure the results.  

People have a new appetite and excitement for being out of their homes. They are craving real-life experiences in physical public spaces. They are comforted by seeing brands in the core of their cities and along the roadsides of boulevards and freeways. 

It’s vital to recognize great work in OOH, as it will hopefully inspire others to make their mark. If these finalists are any indication, OOH will deliver amazing canvasses for brands to do just that.

Mark Tutssel is the former executive chairman, Leo Burnett.

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