OOHs and ahhs: 18 best billboard ads that made the world stop and stare

Hearder_ Billboard ads article

Out of home advertising (OOH) can be a breath of fresh air in the constant chatter about data, social strategies, and geotargeting tactics. And when looking at the best ads of all time, billboards take up many of the top spots. Because billboard advertising is created for everyone passing by, it has no choice but to be strikingly simple. And that’s one of the key components of a great ad. 

The best billboard ads don’t just make a big impact in the moment either. They have some of the highest recall rates for potential customers, with a whopping 82% of people remembering a digital out of home ad that they saw over a month ago.

With that said, let’s take a wander into the great outdoors to see the best billboard ads across two categories: 

  • Best print billboard ads 
  • Best digital billboard ads

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Best print billboard ads 

Print is the OG of billboard advertising, giving us some of the most iconic ads around. 

Here’s a look at some of the best print billboard ads that have turned heads throughout the years. 

1. Fast food sundial – McDonald’s


Source: Billboard Connection

If you thought print billboard ads were always static, this brilliant McDonald’s ad will make you think again. With a  deceptively simple design, it harnesses the movement of the sun to grab attention. 

Targeting morning commuters, the sundial’s shadow lands on the different breakfast foods between 6am and 11am. A clever way to interact with the billboard’s surroundings and give people a playful nudge towards the iconic golden arches with no words needed.

I bet there were more than a few late arrivals to work while this ad was live!

2. Pass the Heinz – Heinz

Pass the Heinz

Source: Twitter

Mad Men fans, eat your heart out. This billboard campaign was first pitched by the fictional Don Draper in season six of the hit TV show. Then, in 2017, Heinz made it happen in the real world with three scrumptiously simple billboards dotted around New York, near where the fictional advertising agency would have been, featuring fries, steak, and a burger.

What makes these billboard ads so great is the fact that they weren’t created solely for Mad Men fans. They were built around a pop culture reference that also happened to be a solid idea. 

No logo. No bottle. And most notably, no product. Just clean shots of mouthwatering food with one thing missing. The chef’s kiss of clever billboard advertising. 

3. Spotify Wrapped – Spotify 


Source: Ad Week

The Spotify Wrapped attention-grabbing campaign really does have the whole package, from personalization to major shareability. 

At the end of each year, the music streaming platform gives users a tailored summary of their listening habits for the year, including top songs, artists, genres, and the total time spent listening. 

They then turn this data into a series of insightful, engaging, and hilarious ads that poke fun at real people who listened to certain songs. Their bright, eye-catching billboard ads pop up all over the place.

Giving people in cities across the world a good LOL in the height of winter. Sparking conversation and interactions on social media. This particular billboard ad from 2016 is one of my favorites. But there are many more gems out there. 

4. Malnutrition facts – Dole 

dole foods malnutritian label

Source: OOH Today

Inspired by the instantly recognizable nutrition label, this outdoor campaign by Doles Packaged Foods is more than just a clever food ad. It’s a stark, powerful call to action for people across the United States to check the nutrition labels on the foods they buy and make more informed choices. 

The campaign kicked off in style in New York, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, shining a light on the staggering statistics about malnutrition across the country. 

In a nation as prosperous as the US, these facts were hard to believe. All the more reason to raise awareness, with an estimated 54 million people affected by the dangers of food insecurity. 

These billboard ads were unmissable, stopping people in their tracks and starting important conversations around the price and accessibility of high-quality, healthy food.  

5. Koleston Naturals – Change 


Source: Ads of the World

Some of the best, most creative billboard ads are the ones that use their natural surroundings to help deliver their message. And this ad campaign from Koleston Naturals hair dye is a cracking example. 

Strategically placed along a roadside coastline, these billboard ads take full advantage of the stunning views of the sea. 

The magic happens as the woman’s hair color changes through the course of the day. From golden blonde in the morning to deep purple and black as the sun disappears from the sky. This showcases the range of colors available in Koleston Naturals’ range. And drives the point home that these products are made of natural ingredients. 

6. Probably the best – Carlsberg

carlsberg billboard

Source: Just Drinks

While a lot of billboard ads are made to simply be seen and observed, this one by Carlsberg flips the medium on its head with an irresistible interactive experience. Turning passersby into participants by letting them pull their own pint of beer from the tap on the poster. 

The billboard advertising tactic served up some serious shareability too, as people captured their experience and sent it to friends and family. It’s a great ad, but it’s also a great PR campaign.

Over everything else, this ad was fun and engaging for everyone who stumbled upon it. Bringing them closer to the brand in a delightfully simple way. Cheers to that!

7. Get back to normal – Tylenol 


Source: Twitter

The creativity in this huge billboard ad transforms a simple product message into an unmissable, unforgettable image. 

Located in Toronto’s bustling Dundas Square, this billboard ad featured a massive wrecking ball, smashing through the billboard and getting stuck in the man’s forehead. Ouch! 

Tylenol’s instantly recognisable brand meant they could get away without showing or mentioning pain relief. Instead, they dramatized pain itself in a visually-striking way. Pun very much intended. 

8. Should’ve gone to Specsavers – Specsavers 


Image source: Creative Bloq

Specsavers is a retail chain for all things optical. And their longrunning “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” tagline has seen them produce some top notch video ads over the years. But this hilarious billboard campaign blunder showed just how versatile their line could be. 

A series of these mischievous billboard ads were spotted around the UK, showing billboard ads pasted over an actual ladder and stuck on the wrong way. Injecting new life into a household catchphrase. 

Will most definitely be keeping an eye out for their next batch of creative work, whatever form it takes. 

Review your next billboard campaign with Filestage 

Filestage is a review and approval software that lets you collaborate with your team on all your content, including PDFs, design files, documents, videos, websites, audio files, and more. And it could do wonders for busy teams trying to get faster creative approval on their next billboard spot.

Let’s take a look at the six steps to review video content with Filestage:

  1. Sign up for free and create a project
  2. Set reviewer groups and invite reviewers
  3. Upload files and set due dates
  4. Collect feedback from reviewers
  5. Collaborate until you get approval
  6. Repeat for remaining review steps

Yup, it really is that simple!

Best digital billboard ads

When looking at the best billboard ads, it’s hard to deny that digital tricks can open doors to even more creativity and engagement. 

To prove it, here are eight of the best digital billboard ads that keep this OOH medium moving with the times. 

1. Look up – British Airways 

This billboard ad by Ogilvy for British Airways takes digital advertising to whole new heights. Using surveillance technology to track flights – allowing a child to get up and point to the overhead planes in real time.

But the clever tech isn’t the only impressive thing about this billboard. Like all great ads, this one is built on a real human truth. After all, what kid isn’t totally mesmerized when they see a plane soaring through the sky? 

Style, substance, plus some serious cuteness … this billboard ad campaign has it all. 

2. Light bulb – The Economist 

the economist

Source: Brand Synario

This bright idea from The Economist featured a supersized light bulb kitted out with a motion sensor. So when anyone walked by, the bulb would switch on, showing that reading The Economist can bring inspiration and spark new thoughts. 

While the magazine’s advertising is known for its dry wit and clever headlines, the creatives behind this billboard managed to deliver their message without using a single word. Genius! 

3. The exploding billboard – Deadline Express Couriers 

the explosive billboard

Source: Izismile

New Zealand courier company, Deadline Express, does not mess around when it comes to its delivery times. 

To demonstrate this, they erected a digital billboard which had a timer that counted down the seconds. And when that time ran out, the entire billboard burst into flames. Lighting up Auckland’s skyline and generating a massive amount of media attention. 

The aim of this exploding ad was to reinforce the brand’s promise of “When we give you a time we mean it”. Message received! 

4. Virtual sandwich-making billboard – Subway 

Picky eaters paradise, Subway took their customizable sandwiches up a notch with this interactive billboard ad. 

The sandwich chain bought ad space on a 3D billboard in London and allowed audiences to create their own Sub virtually by scanning the embedded QR code. Once finished, the sandwiches were then displayed on the big screen in mouthwatering HD. 

Better yet, Subway ambassadors hidden in the crowd would surprise audiences with their custom creations as their sandwiches appeared overhead. Yum! 

5. Test drive billboard – Land Rover 

Source: Clios

What do you do when you want your outdoor advertising campaign to get more people to test drive your cars? You let them go for a spin on the spot! 

At first sight, this billboard might look like your standard car ad. Except it isn’t a static visual of a Land Rover.  It’s a real vehicle that’s ready for the road. And whenever the car got taken out, a timer showed the next eager test driver when it would be back. 

Saving folk the time and effort of dealing with a dealership, this digital billboard pulled into major cities across the globe. Leading to 5x more test drives among passers by and potential buyers. 

Want to see more like this? Check out our roundup of the best car ads.

6. Fearless nights – HandsAway Paris 

Walking alone at night can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly for women. The fear of personal safety often keeps many from venturing out after dark. 

While well-lit streets in bustling urban areas offer some sense of security, the same can’t be said for quieter suburban streets. So HandsAway, a non-profit organization combating violence against women, created a sobering billboard advertising campaign to light up the dimmer streets of Paris. 

A pretty clever (and very valuable) use of the medium.

7. Human speed test – Reebok 

This billboard ad took to the streets of Stockholm to advertise Reebok’s new ZPump 2.0 shoes, challenging people to run past it faster than 17 km/h to earn a free pair. 

The billboard was fitted with a speed camera developed specifically for the campaign, which used real-time object recognition and motion detection to calculate people’s pace. 

This ad itself gained traction at lightning speed, with people lining up to have a go. What an excellent way to engage with your target audience en masse! 

8. Zooming billboards – Leica Cameras 


Source: Peta Pixel

Like a lot of the brilliant billboards on this list, this one from Leica focused on showing their product benefit rather than telling us about it. 

The series of creative billboards showed Switzerland the superior zoom quality of their cameras by literally zooming in on the object behind it in super-high detail. Super sleek and super effective. 

Final thoughts 

Billboard ads bring together the key elements of great creative advertising. They combine simple, single-minded messaging with bold, striking execution to attract attention from a large audience. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this guided tour of the best billboard ads out there right now. And if you’d like to see how Filestage can help you and your team create your own awe-inspiring OOH and billboard ads, you can start a free trial here →