Creative use of shadows in outdoor advertising

I had written about the tiny billboards trend in July.

On a similar note, there seems to be an interesting trend in billboards using shadows to tell a story. The ingredients are – billboard, creativity, and shadows that are caused either by shadows or specially mounted lights.

Here are 7 creative instances when shadows were strategically used in billboards.

2006 July: McDonald’s Sundial

This is one of the earliest billboards that used shadow play. The larger idea is interesting – to use a real sundial in the shape of McDonald’s M (or ‘arches’) that casts a shadow in one of the 6 items listed on the billboard, from 6 am to 11 am! The communication was that McDonald’s had something that you should consume at each hour of the day between those times.

2007 April: WWF

WWF used a billboard with a brilliantly placed awning on top to cast shadows starting at 12 noon, in sync with the message: ‘Ocean levels are rising faster than ever’! As the sun moves, the awning’s shadow keeps moving upwards creating the illusion of the ocean (waves) moving too moving dramatically fast upwards! Agency: Unknown.

2011 August: Newcastle ale

The US-based agency Vitro created a shadow-based billboard for the beer brand, Newcastle Brown Ale. The agency got a couple of New York-based shadow artists to create the billboard using 3,000 bottle caps. During the day, there is nothing happening on the billboard – people simply see the caption and the glass of beer. But in the night, given that the brand was targetting the nightlife, using a strategically positioned light source, the bottlecaps cast a shadow of a hand reaching out to the beer, to go with the line, “Taste the lighter side of dark” (a good fit for dark/brown ale).

2012 April: Emart

To promote Emart’s ‘Sunny Sale’, the agency Cheil created a QR code made of shadows! They erected an outdoor installation comprising of 441 pillars which have 7 different heights. The idea is that the pillars cast a perfect shadow only during noon (12-1) and that shape is the QR code to unlock special deals! So, the outdoor installation creates time-based scarcity and makes it compelling people to wait for the QR code to show up fully during noon!

2014 May: Hrabri

The Croatian Telecom company Hrabri Telefon used a similar light-based shadow play for their 2014 campaign to highlight apathy towards child abuse, through their agency SeƱor, Zagreb. The specific point they wanted to make was that people know that abuse is happening and they do not report it. To communicate that to an audience with strong impact, they erected a billboard with a motion sensor light that glows when someone is walking by. The effect then is of that passerby standing by a child huddled in the ground because of abuse. Quite a powerful communication!

2014 June: Unicef

In the same year, the next month, the Bulgarian agency All Channels created a shadow-based billboard to highlight the very same theme – child abuse, for Unicef. The focus was slightly different though – where the Croatian billboard was to highlight people not reporting child abuse, the Bulgarian billboard was about highlighting child abuse by parents/caretakers in the night. To showcase that children who are abused at home in the night dread the experience, the agency designed the billboard in such a way that a strategically placed lamp at the bottom had a cut-out of a person. When switched on (in the night), the cut-out casts a large shadow above the child, communicating the message with a bang.

2020 January: BBC Dracula

This is probably the most famous shadow billboard, with good reason! Conceived by BBC’s own creative team, the billboard looks confusing during the day – randomly placed stakes next to a callout about the new Dracula show. People know that stakes are related to vampires, but there was no story during the day. During the night, though, the billboard comes alive, in sync with the show’s character! The aptly placed lamp casts a shadow of the stakes and it is the face of a Dracula!

In all these examples, more than people seeing the billboard/outdoor installation offline, what helps significantly is someone (or many people) being impressed with it and sharing it online/word-of-mouth. The total number of people seeing it offline may be far lesser than the number of people who may see the resultant word-of-mouth online. From that perspective, the billboards are merely a conduit to get people talking than being about something to communicate to the passersby (the actual audience).



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