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Every second, ads and marketing messages battle for your attention. The fight is only getting more intense. Back in the ‘70’s, consumers were exposed to about 500 ads a day. By ‘08 that number had gone up to 5000.

We don’t know how many messages we see today. Between personalized ads showing up in your Facebook feed, to the billboards you walk past on your way to work and the push notifications on your phone, we do know that it’s a lot.

So how do you make your ads stand out in a sea of competing messages? In particular, how do you give outdoor ads a particular edge? How do you make them powerful enough to break through the noise of everything else that’s going on outdoors? To answer that question, let’s take a look at five ads that did it well and uncover their secrets.

1. How Mini won attention

Source: Marketing Week

Back in August 2013, the British-based auto manufacturer Mini launched a new campaign in the UK. The ad was a love note to the country’s affinity for the iconic car. Ad agency JCDecaux was contracted to set up large outdoor digital signs along a stretch of the Cromwell Road in London.

The digital billboards displayed personalized messages for Mini Drivers as they drove by the signs. Every time a different Mini drove by, the display would change to reflect that. The ad campaign worked brilliantly because it’s impossible to ignore an ad that’s calling to you by name (or in this case, by car model).

Harnessing the power of digital displays Mini created a unique experience for their customers while increasing their reach with other motorists.

2. How Reebok tapped into the competitive spirit

Source: Reebok, Are You Fast Enough?

Reebok had faded into obscurity. The brand wasn’t associated with serious competition anymore. But in 2015, they decided to go back to their athletic routes, launching a marketing campaign by setting up billboards in major European cities like Stockholm.

The billboards were a challenge. They invited passersby to take part in a foot race. If you could run past a speed camera faster than 17Kph, you would win a pair of the new Reebok performance shoes displayed inside the billboard.

Amateur athletes and passersby loved the competition. The ad changed public perception of the brand, becoming the centerpiece of a new campaign that helped the brand secure endorsements with the UFC and the Polish Olympic teams.

You don’t have to use a fancy set up to get similar results. This ad works well because it taps into our competitive spirit and uses that to raise awareness.

3. How a political party used outdoor ads to win an election


Smart advertising can sway more than just our purchasing habits. It can change the way we view the world itself. The British Conservative party tapped into that in the late 70s with a simple roadside campaign that highlighted the perceived deficiencies of the opposition.

In 1978 unemployment in Britain was on the rise. Labour, the party in power, had won the previous election on the promise of providing employment for everyone. A promise that – due to the economic situation – was proving hard to keep. The conservative party used this period of economic weakness alongside a playfully worded campaign from Saatchi and Saatchi to sway public opinion (and create one of the best known political adverts of the last half-century.)

The ad was plastered along Britain’s roadsides. It was simple – the headline was easy to read in traffic and catchy enough to remember at the polling booth. Whether you’re using outdoor ads to run for government or to win more customers for your brand, a simple, memorable headline with a compelling image can help you be seen (and remembered).

4. How one ad campaign raised a brand from the dead


In the ‘90s Apple was in deep trouble after multiple failed products. By the time they launched the iPod in ‘03, they were desperate for a win. Public sentiment was lukewarm at best. To win us over, Apple leaned on simplicity – and a massive outdoor ads campaign.

The dancing silhouettes are one of the most iconic outdoor ads of the early 2000s. The simple design focused on Apple’s trademark white earphones, in contrast to dark silhouettes enjoying the latest product offering. The ad strikes an interesting balance – it’s both simple and bright. Pared down and intensely noticeable.

There was no marketing copy. No unnecessary explanations. Instead, the brand relied on the power of the image to capture our imaginations. To help us see what our lives could be like with an iPod.

5. How this brand used directional cues to win big

Source: Adweek

“Follow the Arches” is a wayfinding campaign that McDonalds launched in 2018. It turned sections of the McDonalds logo into simple to read road signs that direct you to the nearest location. Just like a map.

The campaign came about due to the fragmented nature of McDonald’s roadside signage. Because the company has been in business and advertising since 1955, there are decades worth of designs dotted around the world. They’re all recognizable as McDonalds but none share a uniform design language. Plus, they were becoming forgettable.

This ad is both simple, clear and recognizable. The bright colors make it hard to ignore and it’s easy to understand from the road.

Break through the noise, your way

Despite advertising very diverse products and brands these incredibly successful outdoor ads all share very similar design features. They focus on simplicity, speaking directly to the audience in a very clear unmistakable way. They focus on one issue and they make it personal, whether it’s the color of your car, how fast you can run, what you’re listening to or where you’re going. In a world full of noise and bright lights, simplicity can be a welcome (and eye-catching) break.