OBIE Award-Winning Outdoor-Advertising Projects

Still fresh after 70+ years
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The outdoor-advertising industry showcases its creativity. After more than 70 years, many organizations and events can become unimaginative, passé…or pick your negative adjective (of course, ST remains fresh and cutting-edge after 108 years … right?)
The Outdoor Adv. Assn. of America (OAAA) has successfully avoided this pitfall with the OBIE Awards. In the spring, the organization unveiled the 72nd edition, and, as with every prior competition, it celebrates the evolving, dynamic nature of the out-of-home-advertising industry.
From 472 entries, the judges awarded 42 prizes: 15 Gold and 27 Silver. Leo Burnett, a Chicago-based agency which operates more than 100 offices, earned six of these awards (three Gold and Silver apiece), and DDB, an agency with nine international offices, won the Best Multi-Format Campaign for installations throughout Las Vegas.
Although the sign industry’s progression has taken it from being close kin to a more-distant relation of the out-of-home-advertising market, hopefully these billboards will inspire some creative thinking for customers whose on-premise branding demands a nontraditional solution.
Norman Is Waiting
Compared to the modern era of gore-laden slasher films, Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal 1960 thriller Psycho probably seems tame and sedate by comparison. However, in its era, it alternately shocked, thrilled and horrified moviegoers (when the film was released, Hitchcock imposed a rule that moviehouses must forbid patrons from coming into the movie late, lest they miss the film’s entire context). It remains a cultural phenomenon that represents both the apex of Hitchcock’s work and the genesis of the genre of psychological horror films.
The primary venue of the movie, the Bates Motel, inspired a likewise-named dramatic series on A&E, a “prequel” that documents the Bates family – the unhinged Norman and his domineering mother, Norma – in the years prior to the movie’s happenings (albeit set in modern times and in White Pine Bay, OR rather than the movie’s Fairvale, CA backdrop).
The network wished to capture the sense of foreboding the neon-lit “Bates Motel” sign engenders, and collaborated with Atomic Props (St. Paul, MN), which produces billboard and multimedia spectaculars; Art Machine, a NYC-based design firm; and Van Wagner Outdoor Advertising to craft a highly memorable NYC billboard installation.“We found the simplest idea to be the most effective,” Jihan Elgibali, director of A&E’s in-house team, said. “We were challenged to protect and preserve Psycho’s cherished, pop-culture property, so we used the Bates Motel sign to bridge the gap between Hitchcock’s classic and our modern-day twist.”
Atomic Props fashioned the sign’s ominous glow from 132 sq. ft. of neon tubing for the primary text, which was sheathed in acrylic, and 375 sq. ft. of vinyl graphics, plus aluminum sheet bent to fabricate the returns, and LEDs to illuminate the secondary letters.
“There was some back and forth on how fancy to go with the sign,” he said. “We considered mimicking the original Psycho sign, and creating a faux-sky background. But, we thought a simple interpretation would capture attention, and it worked well.”
Mind the Dirt
During the 1990s, Las Vegas tourism officials launched marketing campaigns that touted Sin City as a family-friendly place. Since, it’s a relief that Lost Wages’ powers-that-be returned to their senses and embraced the desert oasis’ persona as a den of decadence and laissez-faire. The Clorox Co. wisely embraced the juxtaposition of Las Vegas’ proclivity for unearthing visitors’ free-wheeling, dirty side and its products’ sanitizing abilities.
DDB’s NYC office hatched a brilliant “bleachable moments” campaign, which was unfurled on two Las Vegas electronic billboards – on the well-traveled Miracle Mile, and within the Fashion District – as well as with static graphics installed on taxi-top signs. Viewers of the billboards could access an online form, which LocaModa created for BBD, and fill in the form blanks to recount their memorable (or forgettable, depending on one’s perspective) moment. Some were selected for broadcasting on the billboard; the remainder was retained on a LocaModa online gallery.
Feeling Blue On the Go
If Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton walked by in plain clothes and unadorned faces, you probably wouldn’t recognize them. However, when they’re dressed to perform as The Blue Man Group, their on-stage performances, which emphasize experimental music and physical comedy, they have wowed audiences since 1987.
To promote a Chicago show, Blue Man Group’s in-house creative team fashioned a musical instrument that it calls the “busstopulum” for an installation at a transit shelter at the intersection of Washington and Michigan Sts. in Chicago, near the Millennium Park entrance. The contraption was made from plumbing pipes, a fixture of Blue Man’s musical stylings since their show’s inception. Blue Man Group designer Carey Randall said, “Pipes provide a metaphorical connection to the Internet, and they create a complex web of connections from very everyday materials.”
The busstopulum includes 20 spring-loaded paddles, which transform its pipes into an instrument. The Blue Man team visited a JC Decaux – the out-of-home advertising firm that manages the location – warehouse, where available materials were demonstrated. Blue Man returned to its NYC shop, built the custom electronics into the shelter, and hauled it back to Chicago to install it onsite.
“This job carried more restrictions than usual,” Randall said. “The summer heat, the traffic, the public beating, and Chicago’s potential for sideways summer rain were taken into account. It was fun to make it fun, bright and loud enough to overcome this and grab people’s attention.”
Have A Seat
Usually, when an ad campaign is described as going in the toilet, it carries a negative connotation. However, Denver’s Sukle Advertising & Design created a transit-shelter campaign for Denver Water that did just that. The goal of the campaign was to promote a rebate program that rewards the use of high-efficiency commodes. The copywriter for the campaign, Elliot Nordstrom, explained that Sukle was engaged 9 years ago by Denver Water to develop a 10-year plan to reduce water usage by 22%. To promote indoor water conservation last fall, they produced bus shelter ads rolled out at seven stations throughout the Mile High City.
“We know people don’t like to read ads, but they do like to read on the toilet,” he said. “We knew we could sneak our message in if we made it entertaining. A few ‘Debbie Downers’ didn’t like the idea of public potties, but if you don’t get an occasional complaint, an ad isn’t doing its job.”
Mike Sukle, the firm’s principal and creative director, managed the project; Andy Dutlinger served as art director, and Nordstrom wrote the ads’ dryly humorous copy. Sukle coordinated with Outdoor Promotions, Street Media Group and Explore communications to arrange to have the toilets epoxied to the concrete underneath to provide “library” space. Sukle allayed fears about the toilets being used by filling the bowls with concrete and sealing them shut.