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Cannes

New Life in the Oldest Medium

Leo Burnett Chicago’s Jeanie Caggiano reports from the Cannes Lions on the staying power of outdoor advertising

Native American trail marker trees “advertised” the way to a watering hole. Stained glass windows “sold” Christianity. Outdoor advertising has been used for centuries—because it works.

But now that we live our lives on screens and in bits and bytes, can Outdoor even compete? Absolutely. The world’s oldest medium still has the power to persuade in a heartbeat. Here are some themes I saw this year as a member of the Outdoor Jury at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity:

Big, useful thinking. Out of 5,300 Outdoor entries, the Grand Prix went to Brewtroleum. This ambitious idea took the mush left over from making beer and turned it into biofuel for cars. This wasn’t a one-off—the “brewtroleum” was really sold in 62 gas stations all over New Zealand, and tanker trucks skinned with Brewtroleum traveled the country’s roads. Topped off with a cheeky slogan, “Drink Beer, Save the World,” sales of DB Export jumped 9%. Not bad, in a world where global beer sales have been tanking for years.

Interactive experiences. Sugar Detox, out of France, was an actual product co-created by grocer Intermarche and its ad agency. Six yogurts, each with less sugar than the one before, cut the sweetness by 50%. Sampled in-store or taken home as a beautifully designed six-pack, it attacked a major public health issue by re-training peoples’ taste buds.

New technologies. A Polish bus shelter for Theraflu used the same thermal scanning technology airports used to screen passengers during the SARS epidemic. Stand in front of it, and it tells you if you’re running a fever. Nice touch: It lets you send a scan to your boss to prove you’re too sick to go to work.

New frontiers. The most controversial piece we saw was “The Next Rembrandt.” Done for ING Financial Services out of Amsterdam, a computer analyzed all 300-something of Rembrandt’s paintings and used deep learning algorithms to create the first new Rembrandt in 500 years. A special inkjet printer was modified to apply 13 layers of paint, replicating the artist’s actual brushstrokes. The centerpiece of a live event, the painting sparked heated conversations: Was this a masterpiece, or a Frankenstein?

But plain old billboards still have power. A series of photos for Arabus 3-in-1 Coffee, from Bangkok, made the jury howl. The series started with a sneaky snapshot of a sleeping friend. The snap of the friend was then Photo-shopped riding a giraffe, hanging out with Obama, landing on the moon, etc. (The fact that he looked remarkably like Kim Jong-un only added to the fun.) The sell? Get some of our coffee and don’t let this happen to you.

Unique points of view can stop us. I was struck by the beautiful writing in a poster for Pedigree pet food out of Brazil. It began with the question, “What if you only had 14 years to live?” It then went on to explain, better than anything I’ve ever seen, why dogs are the way they are.

Outdoor is better when it knows where it is. “What’s Wrong With Your Phone?” for Sweden’s Tele2 Business got a lot of laughs. What creative hasn’t gotten an assignment to create a digital billboard? Well, these guys did it better than you. They put theirs at baggage claim to sell a corporate mobile phone plan with unlimited data by providing you with something to read, just when your cheap employer’s plan ran out. It’s a hilariously boring—and compelling—billboard.

Tech still can’t beat an experience. One of my favorites tweaked our current obsession with virtual reality. Jaguar New Zealand’s “Actual Reality” put auto show participants into a Jaguar for a VR test drive. While their headset played an intro, a driver snuck into the car, the walls came down around it and off they went on a real test drive. The participants all remarked on how lifelike it was … and then were shown they’d been taken for a real ride. Gotcha.

And now you can live in the work. The much-awardedVan Gogh BnB” for the Art Institute of Chicago was a perfect fit for the category it was entered in: Non-Standard Indoor Advertising. They offered an AirBnB rental that was a perfect replica of one of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” paintings, down to the brush on the nightstand. The room sold out in 5 minutes flat, got tons of PR, and the Art Institute had its highest ticket sales in 15 years.

Put down your phone. Come outside. Outdoor’s back and it’s better than ever.

Jeanie Caggiano is an EVP, executive creative director, at Leo Burnett and was a member of the Cannes Lions 2016 Outdoor Jury. You can check out her interview with Cannes Lionesses here.