Back in January 2016, the BBC launched its own in-house creative agency, BBC Creative, which now comprises over 150 staff.

Alongside a number of well-received digital ad campaigns – BBC Creative has also received praise for its out-of-home-activity. 

Here’s a look at why its most recent campaigns have been so effective, and what we can learn from its work.

Head-turning billboards

Spend on most traditional advertising formats is in decline – TV suffered in 2019 and print we all know about. But spend on out-of-home (OOH) advertising is on the up. According to PQ Media, global out-of-home media is expected to see an 8.5% ad revenue growth in 2020, which will be its fastest increase in 13 years. Digital out-of-home is expected to grow to $5.22 billion by 2023.

GroupM predicts that outdoor advertising will exceed spending on newspapers and magazines combined by 2024, expanding at an annual rate of between 2.5% and 4%.

One of the main benefits of OOH is reach – the guaranteed (and diverse) range of people that will be exposed to it in specific locations. Billboards and digital signage can also be highly impactful, conveying a simple but powerful message in a highly memorable way.

Impact is one of the reasons why BBC Creative has turned to OOH. In order to promote its adaption of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the agency erected a head-turning billboard outside Westfield Shopping Centre in London’s White City.

The billboard depicts the show’s protagonist, Lyra, underneath a ‘living, breathing’ polar bear – the character of Iorek Byrnison. The magical element is made possible by incorporating a high-powered steam pipe into the billboard in order to depict icy breath coming out of the polar bear’s mouth.

The arresting nature of the breathy polar bear not only ensured that passers-by would see it, but that it would also stick in their minds. To complement this OOH activity, BBC Creative also created an interactive online game whereby users could discover their own daemon; together the combination made for an engaging and all-round compelling campaign.

Contextual creative

While multi-channel activity is often needed, sometimes a standalone OOH campaign is enough. BBC Creative’s campaign to promote Dracula – its latest adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel – is one such example.

For the campaign, BBC Creative erected two specially-made billboards in both London and Birmingham. During the day, passers-by simply saw a number of wooden stakes plunged into the poster. As nightfall arrived, however, the stakes combined to cast a shadow of Dracula. To add an extra layer of novelty, a glass case containing an extra stake was located in front, complete with the words: “In Case of Vampires, Break.”

One of the most impressive elements was that the billboard used no digital effects, with the shadow being created through clever lighting alone.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign has generated huge praise for its creativity, particularly in terms of how it reflects the dark and surprising nature of the series itself. Just like the programme, the true nature of the poster becomes clearer as time goes on, with the shadow getting more prominent as it gets progressively darker. These contextual elements, which cleverly match the time of day to a particular mood and atmosphere, are what truly elevate the campaign.

Audience involvement

The beauty of OOH advertising is that it is often extremely simple; it can tell a story that doesn’t require further explanation or clarification. BBC Creative decided to turn this on its head with its campaign for the 2nd series of Killing Eve – instead using the same kind of mystery and intrigue that the show has become so well-known for.

The campaign, called “Public Displays of Obsession”, sees the two main characters Villanelle and Eve engage in a game of cat and mouse as they send messages to each other via billboards in Sheffield and London. The billboards include mysterious messages such as “I’m going to make you sorry, baby” and “I thought you were special”, as well the hashtag #crazy4eve, and Eve’s phone number.

The BBC encouraged fans to locate all of Villanelle’s billboards and leave a message on Eve’s voicemail. The campaign also included radio and social activity, whereby the chase continued with song requests and excessive tweeting from Villanelle.

The clever element of this campaign was BBC Creative’s confidence in Killing Eve and its existing audience. Sure, some people wouldn’t appreciate the billboards or what they meant, but the millions who watched and loved the first series would immediately be drawn in, both to the campaign itself and the forthcoming second series.

Key takeaways

As BBC Creative ECD Laurent Simon tells Creative Review, “The BBC has always prided itself on making amazing content or apps or whatever, and if that’s the standard of what they do, then all the bits in between should try and be just as good as that. If you’ve got an award-winning documentary or an award-winning drama to promote, the very least you can do is give it your best shot to make sure it’s on the same par.”

But what are the key takeaways for outdoor advertising in particular?

1. Impact is everything

It’s easy to assume that we’ve seen all there is to OOH, but the BBC’s His Dark Materials campaign proves that not all creative elements have been exhausted. In this case, the additional special effects and 3D design elevate an otherwise straightforward billboard.

2. Digital isn’t everything

Digital signage certainly has its benefits, largely in relation to flexibility. However, the BBC’s Dracula campaign proves that clever creativity (and a well-thought out concept) is far more impressive than technology for technology’s sake.

3. It can be good to leave people guessing

Finally, OOH doesn’t have to be so blatant. Mystery and intrigue can in fact elevate a campaign’s impact, and leave people thinking about a billboard long after they’ve seen it. This, combined with activity on social and other digital channels, can create invaluable interaction and engagement.

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