OOH and Ahh: Brands leveraging creators in out-of-home (OOH) ads

April 19, 2023
Ashley R. Cummings
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Big brands come with big-time leverage. That’s an advantage with creator marketing, where large companies can throw hefty budgets at creators with plenty of followers. 

Take the History Channel, which launched a “Stay Curious” campaign with NeoReach. The result? A campaign with 12.2 million views, growing the History Channel’s TikTok account to 50,000 followers shortly after launch.

Or Dunkin, which diversified across 7 influencers on National Donut Day. That campaign brought in 10x the number of followers they typically see through an entire month, ending up on the screens of some 3 million people.

Where does that leave brands without the mega-budgets? One thing is certain: not every creator campaign has to show up on a tiny screen. There are plenty of other ways to reach people without forking over big bucks for viral on-screen potential.

Enter out-of-home (OOH) ads. 

OOH is just as it sounds. Ads that reach the audience “out of home” (billboards, in-store, direct mail, transit, shopping malls, print QR codes) were once the norm. Now they’ve become the fun novelty. And as such, they offer plenty of benefits:

  • Noticeability. Depending on where you are, offscreen and OOH ads are becoming the pattern-breakers. One Nielsen study even showed that 80% of people notice OOH advertising weekly. After all, there’s no ad blocker you can download for real life.
  • Reach. In one study, 80% of U.S. residents noticed ads OOH. But even more striking: 82% of billboard viewers made a point of doing it.
  • ROI. Research suggests the juice is still worth the squeeze. You can expect an average of nearly $6 returned for every $1 spent on OOH ads.

OOH ads also tend to be local, which can make them a natural fit for micro-creators. That means brands of nearly any size can use OOH to amplify the effectiveness of influencer marketing. 

But that’s not all. More and more brands are investing in digital billboards because they’ve grown considerably less expensive. The OOH experience is overlapping with our digital experience, blurring the lines between each. Here’s how to leverage OOH ads, mix in a few creators, and create buzz outside the tiny phone screen.

Examples of brands using creators for OOH advertising—even when the creators couldn’t show up

Launching creator campaigns gives you instant access to digital screens across the world. As Dunkin and the History Channel show, it’s not hard to buy engagement when you leverage creator marketing. 

But not every marketing budget is so plump. Good marketing is sometimes about amplifying a message by finding neat crossovers between digital creators and real-world experiences. Let’s look at some examples.

Carex Soap

Pairing with creator Mrs. Black (@Jbums), Carex Soap used the multiplier effect. They’d combine the in-person influence of a creator with a tangible, OOH example of real-world advertising.

It wasn’t just a meet-and-greet. It wasn’t just a creator campaign. And it wasn’t just handing out free samples. Carex Soap unleashed a whole package of incentives for people to come out and meet Mrs. Black, including care package prizes.

But despite the OOH nature of the campaign, Carex didn’t ignore the digital world. That campaign included a hashtag, #CaringExtraForYou. They uploaded videos of the customers who came out for the meet-and-greet. They posted well-crafted voiceovers explaining why the soap’s so great.

The campaign put a face on a tangible home care product and got customers to come out and put it in their own hands. Technically, it was an OOH campaign. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at its digital presence. 

Surreal Cereal

Sometimes, your chief challenge can be your chief advantage. 

Legendary ad writer David Ogilvy once created a campaign for Avis, the rent-a-car company: We’re #2, so we have to work harder.

Honesty like that has a way of resonating with people. So when Surreal Cereal unleashed an OOH campaign that didn’t include big-name creators and influencers, it raised a few eyebrows by leaning into that fact.

Technically, they did include a few influencers. But they got “Dwayne Johnson”—not The Rock, mind you—and quoted him as saying that Surreal was his favorite cereal.

The OOH result? They could label themselves “Dwayne Johnson’s favorite cereal,” with an asterisk.

Even the lawyers couldn’t say a thing about it.

But it wasn’t a sneaky campaign. The lack of celebrity influence was part of the fun. Serena Williams, Michael Jordan (a “normal bloke who lives in St. Albans”), and Ronaldo all had something to say about Surreal Cereal.

Even better, the campaign hit on Surreal Cereal’s unique name. Surreal sounds like cereal, just as Dwayne Johnson sounds like…Dwayne Johnson.

With bright colors, famous names, and billboards with the products featured prominently, it had all the hallmarks of a great OOH campaign. 

But the unique use of celebrity (or in this case, non-celebrity) names had some digital virality crossover potential. They proved you don’t need a mega-influencer to get the kind of viral attention you’re after.

Google

If any company could get away with digital-only ads, you’d think it would be Google. But as the quality of digital billboards improves, Google’s opportunities for attention-grabbing OOH ads only improves over time. 

In this case, Google created digital billboards across England: Manchester, London, and Birmingham. While widescreen images of outdoor activities played, a Google query would overlay across the top, with phrases like “parks near Shoreditch.”

Thanks to the digital inputs, it was easy for Google to customize these, capitalizing on summer trends. “Best ice cream in Glasgow” for Scotland, for example. Or “parks near me” next to a park with heavy foot traffic.

Google highlighted the importance of local relevance here. Without an influencer to go with the campaign, the locations became the billboard’s main attractions. “Do I need to bring sandals to [a local spot]” has far more relevance thanks to its specificity. 

“There’s something unique about the British interest in the weather and the way we react to summer,” said Graham Bednash, Director of Consumer Marketing at Google UK. “We love the way this campaign really captures that and shows how Google Search and Maps can help people make the most of it.”

If your OOH advertising is good enough, it draws attention to itself. You can use creators as the cherry on top to ensure something goes viral, but not without a good idea first.

HUN Wine

2020. Not exactly the best year to launch your new wine-in-a-can company. Sure, 2020 gave customers plenty of reasons to buy wine. But stores were closed, people were shopping at home, and OOH advertising seemed like a poor investment.

But HUN Wine had already placed an order for an OOH ad. What might have otherwise been a debut event studded with influencers and media types became a ghost town. 

Like Surreal Cereal, HUN Wine decided to lean into the disadvantage.

After all, HUN had already committed to its launch. The OOH ad space was bought and paid for. But there was going to be no launch party.

But like all wine-in-a-can companies, HUN knew how to have fun. They infused their banner ad with a bit of humor: 

“We were going to have our launch party here,” it said. “But no one could make it.”

It happened to fit neatly with the slightly off-kilter voice of a wine-in-a-can company. In this case, there was no event with creators to draw attention to the company. But the banner still did its job.

Creative ways brands can leverage creators for out-of-home advertising

Working with creators, like Carex soap, is a nice way to amplify OOH advertising. But as Google and HUN Wine showed, it’s not necessary to add big-name talent to every campaign. There are creative ways brands can leverage creators for OOH campaigns that still pack some heat.

Let’s take an example: environmental awareness campaigns. It can be hard to hammer home the message of sustainability in the completely-digital world. But OOH offers real-life resonance that brings this message out into the world.

“Brands can collaborate with influencers on environmental awareness to promote sustainable out-of-home advertising campaigns,” said Grant Polacheck, head of marketing and operations at Squadhelp. 

“It can range from using sustainable production materials to solar-powered lighting ad displays to directly using the medium to remind people of eco-conscious practices. It's an excellent way to highlight influencers with environmental advocacies and causes while demonstrating sustainability through the OOH campaign.”

According to Polacheck, these campaigns don’t have to use creators to repeat the same old “reduce, reuse, recycle” principles. OOH ads can instead build these designs with sustainable practices.

This, in turn, buys your brand credibility with sustainability influencers for future campaigns. “A highly sustainable angle opens the brand to a wide range of influencers,” said Polacheck. “Moreover, it gives [brands] a more sought-after reputation for promoting social awareness and responsibility to consumers.”

What else can you do to get creative with OOH advertising? 

Build ads you can touch

There’s something OOH will always offer that digital-only ads can’t: tactile experience. There’s no scratch-and-sniff TikTok viral ad. But for Carex, people could come right up to the products and smell the soap. 

Or, in the case of White Claw, they created an ad that literally cooled people during a heat wave.

It sounds like a neat novelty until you hear the context. The “icy” wall from White Claw appeared during a heatwave in London. The promise? “This wall will cool you.”

It wasn’t just a billboard with icy-looking designs—cool though that may be. It also featured actual cooling gels. People could come up to it and try the gel for themselves. And heck, while they’re at it, why not take a picture and share it on Instagram?

It’s not hard to see how this might fit with creator marketing. A meet-and-greet in a heat wave might not sound like a great idea. But bring it indoors with cooling gels and you’ve got an excuse for people to come out and see what you’re selling. 

In White Claw’s case, it wasn’t cooling gels. But OOH advertising doesn’t have to be all about your product. It’s about finding opportunities and excuses to get people out of the house and engaging with your ad. 

3D advertisements

3D ads are nothing new. But every time a company finds a unique way to utilize this technology, it’s a viral sensation waiting to happen.

Take this Ludacris ad, for example. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges only appeared in voice and animation form, but he was still the influencer for a Samsung Galaxy ad. Using a cross-over promotion with the 20th anniversary of his “Word of Mouf” album, the ad saw the cartoon Ludacris leaning over the side of the billboard, appearing to enter real life.

As great as TikTok may be for some, there’s just no way to replicate that kind of experience on the small screen.

“Digital out-of-home has been growing as technology has improved—bright, more reliable outdoor displays—and LED costs have dropped while capabilities and resolutions have improved,” said Dave Haynes, founding editor of Sixteeen:Nine, a content site owned by a digital signage company. 

Non-digital interaction

Cooling gels is one thing. An ad you can sit on? Even better. Some ads use street furniture to get people to stop and watch the ad. Even better, they sometimes participate in it.

This can be great for meet-and-greet with influencers, sure. But it has just as much appeal in the mundane stops of our daily walkabouts. Bus shelters, sidewalks, benches, kiosks. 

A digital billboard is one thing, and it can be a great opportunity to place an ad. But the instant you turn an ad into something in the actual, tactile universe, you introduce the potential for amplification. 

Adding real, tangible pieces to a street-level billboard does more than enhance this attention, however. It also improves the potential ROI without any meaningful increase in budget.

Get back to where ads once belonged

There used to be a name for OOH ads. We called them ads. The idea that they’re not capable of melding easily with today’s creators and influencers isn’t only far-fetched, but it goes against decades of real-world experience.

Whether it’s through meet-and-greets or influencer-charged billboard campaigns, OOH ads can change the tenor of your message. And when it makes someone stop and take a picture, there’s just as much digital viral potential as ever.

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