The lost art of the billboard

These days, billboards are viewed as, mostly, for local businesses only. Bull. Brands, if you took just a small part of your worthless social media budget and put up one billboard in a high-visibility spot, you’d see some big-ass ROI in awareness and sales. But here’s the catch: It has to be a great billboard that also sells the bejesus out of your product.

Oh, you’re snickering and scoffing, Digital Man? Let’s look at your media budget.

Study after study has proven your precious social media advertising doesn’t work. (At least, not the way you imbecilic pun-clowns are running it now, it doesn’t.) Native advertising is even more useless. TV is in a weakening position, getting weaker by the month. Print? Heh.

How much product has the millions you spend on social media sold? Do you even know?

Do you even know what a great billboard looks like, Digital Man? You certainly don’t know how to create one. Let’s help you out.

Heineken, 1975


Ad agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners, London

The best beer tagline ever written gets perfectly visualized. One of best “celebrity” ads ever done, too. Here’s the fun backstory (link) on how the billboard got made and approved by the brewer. It’s great, and it sells. See how that works, Digital Man?

Now, imagine if this billboard wasn’t created in 1975 but went up in London a couple of years ago (before Leonard Nimoy died). And imagine if you were CMO of Heineken. Just try to envision how much it would get “shared” even if your “digital” and “social media” teams did squat, zero seeding.

It would get shared like the clap, because “digital natives” love sharing “real” things from the “real” world much  more than they do fake things from the digital world. It makes them at least appear like they go “outside.”

Araldite, 1983


Ad agency, FCO Univas, London

Araldite adhesive is very strong. Strong enough to hold a Ford Cortina on a billboard? Indeed.


Strong enough to hold a Ford Cortina, with another Ford Cortina on top of it, on a billboard? That’s not “Photoshop.”

This stunt was carried out over a a few weeks in London. Again, try to imagine your “engagement” numbers, Digital Man, if this board played out in Times Square this spring. Please also note, again, that the ad is both great and sells like a motherfucker.

Volkswagen, 1960s-1970s


Ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, NYC

Look, Digital Man! Even puns can work, if they’re good puns and they sell.

Despite my seemingly near-constant anger, I still love great advertising. It’s why I walk through Times Square — still billboard capital of the world — about once a month. And, every month, I find zero great billboards. Zero. This is unacceptable.

I know you won’t listen to me, Digital Man, because creating great billboards is hard, downright impossible for your “digital” creatives. But I’m not going to stop hounding you until you at least give it a try. One time, baby. C’mon!

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