How Cleveland Reacted to a Series of Strange Billboards, and What It Says About Outdoor Ads

Twist Creative's summer experiment

While outdoor advertising is often phenomenal, it’s frequently a blight on the landscape and hasn’t earned its right to block out nature or the cityscapes it obscures. In Cleveland, though, some out-of-home ads have popped up this summer that are undeniably intriguing. In fact, they’re meant to start a conversation partly about the medium itself.

The billboards feature single words or phrases that you might find on a grocery list—orange juice, butter, paper towels, etc.—set against scenic natural backgrounds like mountains, deserts and forests. There is also a URL: twist-creative.com.

Twist is a creative agency in town. The billboard project is an experiment designed to show that advertising is a conversation, and that “any good conversation needs a conversation starter,” the agency tells us. The cryptic ads send people to the website, where the agency has been asking people for their thoughts and feelings about them. “There is no better role for outdoor billboards than sparking an interest and simply suggesting a ‘want,'” says Twist CEO Mike Ozan.

Twist says traffic to its website is up about 22 percent overall, and the agency also saw a 50 percent increase in résumé submissions, even though it wasn’t expressly a recruiting campaign.

Among those who’ve visited the website, reaction to the boards has been almost uniformly positive—perhaps not surprisingly, since they took the time to note the URL and check it out later. The simplicity of the executions also helps, of course, and their teaser-y nature naturally inspires curiosity.

Twist shared some of the public’s feedback to each specific billboard. Check out all the reactions below. We’ve bolded some of our favorite ones.

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “I thought of butter and alot of other stuff that maybe wasn’t butter but yeah these are words.” -John A
• “A comdey sketch maybe” -Mat H
• “Toast.” -Ellen M
• “Gay, dabs, basketball.” -Megan H
• “Giggles.” -Mary W
• “That’s odd…” -Nathan L
• “Photoshop.” -Juan L
• “What is that for?” -Betty L
• “My cat. That’s her name.” -Jess P
• “Camping.” -Rachelle S
• “Food, creativity, traveling.” -Tessa N

—Have you had a conversation with anyone about this campaign?
• “Yes. Friends that were riding in my car at the time we saw it -they all laughed. And a few of my fellow designers at Richardson. I saw it over the weekend and had to ask Kristie Oldham about it first thing Monday morning. I had a different reaction to it because I know who Twist is so I needed to get the story, but had I not, I probably would have reacted in a different way.” -Mary W
• “Not yet but I plan on it.” -Juan L
• “My husband.” -Betty L
• “Yes my husband and I saw both of them while driving together and we just discussed what it could possibly be about” -Jess P
• “My sister, I sent her pictures captioned “what the heck is going on” and she replied “what.” -Rachelle S
• “No -I just drove past them a few times.” -Tessa N

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “For exactly what you’re doing. I assumed the intent was to investigate and look up the website to find out what it was for.I thought it could either be some kind of sketch comedy or maybe a tech start-up. I certainly didn’t think it was for butter.” -Matt H
• “Selling butter.” -Ellen M
• “advertising.” -Megan H
• “Not a clue, but the first guess was butter until I saw your URL at the bottom.” -Mary W
• “I honestly had no idea but I was curious to find out.” -Nathan L
• “A graphic design agency.” Juan L
• “No idea.” -Betty L
• “Amazing. Love it.” -Jess P
• “I have literally no idea, that’s why I went to the website. I thought it may be a scavenger hunt-Esque campaign.” -Rachelle S
• “I’ve check out job openings with Twist Creative and was wondering what these billboards were for -maybe for you to try to find some hidden talent?” -Tessa N

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “I do, its eyecatching and thought provoking; no question. But there needs to be more. Having the word “butter” against a mountain backdrop is fine for this kind of though-experiment, but the real test will be what comes next. What is the practical application for an advertiser with this kind of approach? To be honest, I feel like I would need a pretty good pay-off to go looking for the punchline my self.” -Mat H
• “If the object was to strike up a conversation, then the billboard was effective. The “Butter” billboard was near my home and I saw it often while running errands with my husband. We said ” weird” and “I wonder what that’s all about ?” Also I wonder how people who were in their car alone reacted -without anyone to discuss the “why?” Sitting next to them.” -Ellen M
• “yes absolutely..it did exactly what its purpose was.” -Megan H
• “Yes! Most billboards are over cluttered, eye-sores. Although I’ve only seen the “Butter” billboard out in the wild -it’s nice to see the series. It’s simplicity stuck with me, and (obviously) I’ve thought about it more than any other billboard since. Love the type and the background images. Love how the word “Butter” is slightly tucked behind the trees. I feel like I need to find them all.” -Mary W
• “I thought it was funny.” -Nathan L
• “I love them. You can’t just see a poster with the word “butter” in a stylistic font and not check out whatever it may be.” -Juan L
• “I was like, what is that, it says Butter I love it. My husband said “twist creative, they must be trying to recruit you” (I’m a graphic designer) and here I am now on your site…” -Jess P
• “Yes, they’re funny and entertaining to see” -Rachelle S
• “I’ve check out job openings with Twist Creative and was wondering what these billboards were for -maybe for you to try to find some hidden talent?” -Tessa N

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Friend with nick name Dill Pickles and years ago getting great dill pickles from a barrel.” -Helen H
• “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” -Rebecca G
• “My son who loves pickles” -Martha B
• “Curiosity and questions” -Chad H
• “I love pickles and was curious about why it was on billboard” -Ashley C
• “Pickles -and what the???” -Jessica C
• “My friend who loves pickles” -Hannah K
• “Pickles… I guess” -Hannah M
• “My recent vacation” -Angelina H
• “Arizona” -Jenny O
• “What is that for?” -Betty L
• “Pickles!” -Nikki M
• “Road trip” -Gabby F
• “I invisioned papers towels and pickles and wondered why the background was of a outside theme didn’t go with the words however it intrigued me every time I passed by billboard and I had to look up what twist creative was” -Sonia L
• “Pickles” -Erin P
• “Hunger” -Ryan G
• “Nothing specific but I was very curious.” -Jean R
• “Pickles” -Matthew O
• “Some goddamned delicious pickles” -Erick T
• “Old 70’s tv shows” -Janet P
• “A hedgehog” -Dawn A
• “A fermented cucumber” -Julia H
• “Laughter” -Lenny K
• “Finally a simple billboard with a large enough font but WTF is it for!?” -Charity H
• “Incongruity -the word (product?) and the image didn’t match” -Torbet S
• “Pickles” -Kelly B
• “Pickles” -Christopher M

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “Some sort of exercise in fearless thinking. ” -Rebecca G
• “Power of suggestion.” -Martha B
• “A product launch” -Chad H
• “Cleveland pickle company actually” -Ashley C
• “Perhaps an art installation?” -Jessica C
• “Didn’t know so I was curious and went to the website” -Hannah K
• “Pickles?” -Hannah M
• “A place to buy homemade pickles.” -Helen H
• “An art studio” -Angelina H
• “Pickles? Honestly I’m a little disappointed this wasn’t for artisan pickles.” -Jenny O
• “No idea.” -Betty L
• “I thought it was a subliminal message to by pickles! I was confused and curious.” -Nikki M
• “Graphic design or ad company” – Gabby F
• “I thought it was a joke advertisement for paper towels and reminded me of the don’t use tobacco type of ads” -Sonia L
• “Unsure” -Erin P
• “Hip pickles” -Ryan G
• “I had no idea.” -Jean r
• “twist creative because it said twist creative at the bottom and I know what the firm does.” -Matthew O
• “I thought it was a creative ploy to get me to visit this website and I was perfectly okay with it.” -Erick T
• “As an artist I knew to look for the website or hashtag to find out. I did not see it on the smaller “pickles” billboard that I saw, to hard to find. But when I saw the larger “soup” billboard the web address was clear.” -Janet P
• “Not sure but I did ask myself why is there a billboard for pickles.” -Dawn A
• “To capture attention” -Julia H
• “Did not know” -Lenny K
• “Cleveland Pickles” -Charity H
• “Pickles” -Christopher M
• “No idea!” -Kelly B
• “Just something quirky” -Torbet S

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “I don’t like the look of them because I think the western look is ugly. But, I love the idea behind simplicity and curiosity.” -Rebecca G
• “”Yes. They make you think of all the things you associate with words. It also reminds you what you need to buy at the store”-Martha B
• “I do like them. My sweetie doesn’t dislike them. I like them because they are simple and not full of word vomit. The colors are also pleasing.” -Chad H
• “Yes! Its simple” -Ashley C
• “Yes. Yes, I do. Because it did, indeed, make me curious and I had to figure it out.” -Jessica C
• “Absolutely! Love the intriguing, gotta figure it out, interactive aspect! Love the simplicity!” -Hannah K
• “Looks nice I guess. I just have no idea what pickles to buy now.” -Hannah M
• “Yes. Made me think of the subject.” -Helen H
• “Yes they can start of conversation in an awkward situation. Like “I saw a sign that said pickles today” -Angelina H
• “I do like it! Creative and I definitely wanted to learn more” -Jenny O
• “Yes! They are fun! I smiled because it was silly plus I love pickles!” -Nikki M
• “Yes. They were pretty! And visually interesting. And weird.” -Gabby F
• “Yeah, it’s interesting, funny, and has a pretty background.” -Sonia L
• “Yes I think it’s quirky and intriguing” -Erin P
• “Yes. They are cool and nice to look at.” -Ryan G
• “Yes -they got and kept my attention. Enough so that I looked you up.” -Jean R
• “Yes. They’re gentle fun.” -Matthew O
• “Yes. It was one of the few aesthetically pleasing billboards I have seen.” -Erick T
• “Now that I’ve read the explanation, I do, but not at first. Initially I thought it was too gimmicky.” -Janet P
• “Sure. Their kinda funny and alarming and thought provoking” -Dawn A
• “Sure. They are unique and funny and really spice up an otherwise monotonous commute.” -Julia H
• “I still do not understand what your advertising” -Lenny K
• “Eh…. unless you are an ad geek like me you might not google to find out what it’s for. It’s kinda anticlimactic and reminds me of boards done by Cartoon Network a few years back for some show I cannot remember” -Charity H
• “Loved it. Simple, easy to read and not distracting.” -Christopher M
• “Not sure -seemed intriguing but yet confusing” -Kelly B
• “Yes, a little -quirky and offbeat” -Torbet S

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Nothing specific but I was very curious.” -Jean H
• “What is that for?” -Betty L
• “Beer.” -LJ
• “It reminded me of Arizona or driving somewhere and I’m hot. I would need beer. ” -Lindsay C

—Have you had a conversation with anyone about this campaign?
• “Not yet” -Jean H
• “My husband.” -Betty L
• “No. We pointed at the billboard and exclaimed “beer!” That was it. The only reason I clicked the link was because of an ad on Facebook and I’m like hey I saw that billboard I guess I will see what it’s about although I didn’t think much of it at all before.” -LJ
• “I haven’t had a conversation with anyone.” -Lindsay C
• “I asked my co-workers what the beer billboard was for none of them knew” -Arnold F

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “I had no idea.” -Jean H
• “No idea.” -Betty L
• “Beer. There’s a lot of bars near the billboard so I thought it was a general advertisement for that location.” -LJ
• “I think the billboard is for something relaxing or refreshing.” -Lindsay C
• “maybe a craft beer” -Arnold F

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “Yes -they got and kept my attention. Enough so that I looked you up.” -Jean H
• “No because I don’t drink beer but I liked the dessert background and wondered if the dryness was relevant to the message of “you should come have a beer.” -LJ
• “As a designer and marketer myself, I like the creative aspect of the billboards, but as a consumer, without context, I’m not really sure what it should be marketing or what I should be buying. They’re definitely conversation starters, but if I only remember the advertisement and not what I should be buying, is the message really getting across?” -Lindsay C
• “I like how simple they are” -Arnold F

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Old 70’s tv shows” -Janet P.
• “Nothing specific but I was very curious.” -Jean R.
• “Adventure” -Maddie Q.
• “Backpacking” -Alissa S.
• “Soup, and the time I went on tour to the west coast” -Shannon S.

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “As an artist I knew to look for the website or hashtag to find out. I did not see it on the smaller “pickles” billboard that I saw, to hard to find. But when I saw the larger “soup” billboard the web address was clear.” -Janet P.
• “I had no idea.” -Jean R.
• “I wasn’t sure but knew I’d find out if I went to the website; maybe a travel site?” -Maddie Q.
• “I didn’t know for sure. I kinda thought it was some kind of test. It was asking me to figure something out. The curious part was very true.” -Alissa S.
• “A beautiful grocery store located somewhere far away that for some reason did not want to tell me it’s name or that it carried anything other than soup. Once I saw “twist creative” on there, I realized it was some kind of obtuse marketing thing and I immediately thought it was dumb because there wasnt enough information for me to do anything with. I felt left out and resented it, basically.” -Shannon S.

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “Now that I’ve read the explanation, I do, but not at first. Initially I thought it was too gimmicky.” -Janet P.
• “Yes -they got and kept my attention. Enough so that I looked you up.” -Jean R.
• “Yes! I love the scenery and the design.” -Maddie Q.
• “I smiled so I would say yes. They are like public art almost. It made me think of a sort of mockumentary of an ad campaign. Smart and clever.” -Alissa S.
• “I like it because it’s not an advertisement. It’s kind of like dada stock advertising, like a computer AI tried to generate an ad. In that aspect, if I were an advertiser looking to get an ad made, theres no way I would pay someone to do this for me. Having read the intro above, I really do agree with your motives. Especially that “There is no better role for outdoor billboards than sparking an interest and simply suggesting a “want.”” I think thats so spot-on. But my gut reaction was pretty negative. I think, to me, the billboard is a space where the wealthy get to just shout whatever they want at you, so I’m not used to things being served softly. If there were any way to redeem the billboard, this approach would be a great start.” -Shannon S.

—Have you had a conversation with anyone else about this campaign? Please tell us about it.
• “No.” -Janet P.
• “Not yet.” -Jean R.
• “No. We pointed at the billboard and exclaimed “beer!” That was it. The only reason I clicked the link was because of an ad on Facebook and I’m like hey I saw that billboard I guess I will see what it’s about although I didn’t think much of it at all before. ” -Maddie Q.
• “When I got to work I asked around and others had seen Pickles we came to the site together because we wanted to find out what it was all about. cool.” -Alissa S.
• “I have not. It’s not that I wouldnt -I just dont know anyone else who has seen it as well.” -Shannon S.

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Why is there a weird billboard that says eggs… then we saw paper towels and I had to Google it.” -Stacie K.
• “Curiousity as to what was being advertised.” -Julio G.
• “Eggs.” -Mango M.
• “Memes. I felt relaxed with the pictures of landscapes.” -Emma G.
• “Camping.” -Rachelle S.

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “Wasn’t sure but it got us talking about about why and if we were going to see more.” -Stacie K.
• “I was simply confused but intrigued in what it was advertising.” -Julio G.
• “Where chickens should not live and what dinner should be for.” -Mango M.
• “I figured it was some kind of rebel-with-a-cause kind of thing.” -Emma G.
• “I have literally no idea, that’s why I went to the website. I thought it may be a scavenger hunt-Esque campaign.” -Rachelle S.

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “Yes because they are fun to talk about.” -Stacie K.
• “Yes it made me laugh out loud, it was random and funny.” -Julio G.
• “They’re weird but I do like them. It’s nice to have a break from traditional advertisements; your billboards evoke thought.” -Emma G.
• “Yes, they’re funny and entertaining to see.” -Rachelle S.

—Have you had a conversation with anyone else about this campaign? Please tell us about it.
• “Yes my husband and I saw both of them while driving together and we just discussed what it could possibly be about.” -Stacie K.
• “I made a bad joke about orange juice.” -Mango M.
• “I have not just because I have been busy. But I have done some thinking about it.” -Emma G.
• “My sister, I sent her pictures captioned “what the heck is going on” and she replied “what.” -Rachelle S.

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Memes. I felt relaxed with the pictures of landscapes.” -Emma G
• “Curiosity and questions” -Chad H
• “Why is there a weird billboard that says eggs… then we saw paper towels and I had to Google it” -Stacie K
• “I invisioned papers towels and pickles and wondered why the background was of a outside theme didn’t go with the words however it intrigued me every time I passed by billboard and I had to look up what twist creative was” -Sonia L
• “I yelled out, “that’s genius advertising!” -Jess H.

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “A product launch” -Chad H
• “Wasn’t sure but it got us talking about about why and if we were going to see more” -Stacie K
• “I thought it was a joke advertisement for paper towels and reminded me of the don’t use tobacco type of ads” -Sonia L
• “I figured it was for an ad agency because it’s THAT GOOD!” -Jess H

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “They’re weird but I do like them. It’s nice to have a break from traditional advertisements; your billboards evoke thought.” -Emma G
• “Yes because they are fun to talk about” -Stacie K
• “Yeah, it’s interesting, funny, and has a pretty background.” -Sonia L
• “LOVE them. They are seriously genius, and do EXACTLY what good advertising should.” -Jess H

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “Interest & confusion ” -Priscilla W.
• “Fizzy peacefulness” -Robert T.
• “Food, creativity, traveling” -Tessa N.

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “I thought it was for a heath agency trying to warn us against drinking to much soda.” -Priscilla W.
• “Travel or a new drink I have seen others so I could tell they were part of a series. They are wonderful, smart and simple.” -Robert T.
• “I’ve check out job openings with Twist Creative and was wondering what these billboards were for -maybe for you to try to find some hidden talent?” -Tessa N.

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “I love them. I thought they were so curious and interesting. Much better than any other billboards I have seen recently. And the background are beautiful to look at.” -Priscilla W.
• “Love them. Even more that I know what they are for. I am so exhausted by the busy stressful nonsense put out by advertisers. We are all so stressed and overwhelmed by media noise. These billboards reminded me of a simpler time. I like that and wish there were more things like them.” -Robert T.
• “I thought they were weird and super bizarre at first. I was very curious about it -as I am about everything. After reading this I definitely get the strategy behind it and would be interested in seeing the results of the feedback you get on it.” -Tessa N.

—Have you had a conversation with anyone else about this campaign? Please tell us about it.
• “I told my sister about how interesting and curiosly different this campaign is. ” -Priscilla W.
• “Yes I have asked several people about them and had a few pretty good conversations. If this was a brand I would believe it.” -Robert T.
• “No -I just drove past them a few times.” -Tessa N.

 

—What did the billboard bring to mind?
• “a thisrt” -Maya F
• “What is that for? ” -Betty L
• “curiosity and questions.” -Chad H

—Have you had a conversation with anyone about this campaign?
• “My husband.” -Betty L
• “Yes; sweetie. She likes “pickles” because it’s funny to see a billboard that just reads pickles.” -Chad H

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “To be creative” -Maya F
• “No idea.” -Betty L
• “A product launch -Chad H

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not? – No Response (1)
• “Yes,because I think it brings creativity to mind” -Maya F

 

—Which billboard did you see?
• “The one with the word on the photo of the outside stuff.” -Hank C
• “I haven’t actually seen one in person yet.” -Micheal J

—What did it bring to mind?
• “Like, old nature documentaries or westerns and stuff but like if the title of the show was just something you got at the grocery store. I bet lots of people would watch a western about stuff like that. Like that guy from the old “I hanker for a hunk of cheese!” jingle.” -Hank C
• “The combination of colors, imagery and typefaces evoke a sense of nostalgic warmth, whereas the specific outdoor imagery in combination with the words themselves brings to mind items one might bring on a family road trip or outing which is common this time of year as it is the time usually reserved for family vacations.” -Micheal J

—What did you think the billboard was for?
• “It’s important to have a dreams. Maybe if you see one of these billboards you’ll have a dream about being in your very own western. “Colt Chuckwagon and the Legend of Butter Mountain” or “Buckaroo Bill Could Use a Beer”. And then when you wake up from your dream you’re like “I’m sure a might thirsty.” -Hank C
• “An exercise perhaps in abstract objective correlative? Using specific combinations of imagery, colors and words to evoke subconscious reactions, emotions and feelings to better understand the psychological aspects of advertising?” -Micheal J

—Do you like these billboards? if so why? if not why not?
• “Oh yeah. They’re good billboards. Most billboards are like tryin to sell you stuff and things but those are just weird. We need more weird and less stuff. I bet cowboys would like them too. Not many cowboys in Cleveland though. Too bad.” -Hank C
• “Yeah, I think it’s an interesting experiment. I’m curious as to what the ultimate goal is with them as far as insights that can be used in practical application.” -Micheal J

—What word would you like to see and why?
PEACE
Because we need more of it.

DEMOCRACY
Because we’re in danger of losing it.

SUGAR
Nobody advertises sugar, but it’s a necessary ingredient in most recipes. And it’s a sweet word.

DOGGO
With kittens in the background because it would be advertizing dogs but it has cats on it.

POP
The word SODA does not resonate with Midwest folk.

PEACE OR LOVE OR CALM OR SAFETY
As most people need to learn to embrace those when driving 😉 (and you need a disclaimer that you won’t sell my address or sign me up for lame things I don’t want by submitting it below. We don’t have a relationship yet – this is a conversation… you should to work for ‘the digits’ by building some trust.

AVOCADO
Because its a cool word.

SQUEEGEE, FUNNEL, BUBBLE
They are everyday words that are a bit unique.

COMMUNITY
Because we need to figure out what that means.

KETCHUP
Because it’s good on anything.

I WOULD WANT TO SEE TAMPONS.
Because I think it is a conversation starter about why they are seen in our cultures as a taboo topic when they are just hygiene objects.

CHEESE
1. Who doesn’t like cheese?
2. Word associated with smiling 🙂
3. Who doesn’t NEED cheese?
4. WHO DOESN’T LIKE CHEESE?!

FEARLESS
It suits you.

MUSIC
Because its something that permeates all cultures and is universally enjoyed.

TELEPHONE
Nobody calls phones telephones anymore. I think it would spark curiosity.

QUAGMIRE
Because it is a really fun word to say.

PUPPIES
Because it would get a lot of attention.

TAMPONS
We discussed it, and think TAMPONS would be an effective one.

COMPASSION OR TOLERANCE
Ummmm I’ve never really thought of it before. I guess I’d like to see a positive word, like “compassion” or “tolerance.” More positive things in the world seems like a good choice.

ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
That raises curiosity. Things that don’t belong like water in the desert.

TREES. LAKE. OUTDOORS STUFF

DECENT
From the trailer park boys.

CHIPS
I don’t know why but I think that would be cool.

VAGINAS
Because it would have a greater impact on curiosity as to why a billboard says vagina with a random background.

HAPPY
Anyone would have their own interpretation of it!

SPEAK
It’s a motivational word.

NOT SURE. MAYBE PUPPIES
Puppies are cute.

HEALTH
To connect folks to services.

LOVE
Because it’s my favorite thing and we all need more of it.

MY NAME
Because it would make me smile when I saw it & I’m sure friends would make note. Maybe also the word Tacos and High five.

HAPPY
Because I think it would be a billboard doing a service.

FART
Because I think it would give someone a giggle.

PANTS
Pants is a funny word. Sweetie thinks “sunflowers” would be god on a billboard.

SOMETHING INSPIRING
The grocery items are funny but it would be cool if the single-word ads were utilized for something good.

BILLBOARD
It would be funny.

LOVE! EQUALITY! PEACE!
The world needs more of that.

OLIVES
It reminds me of martinis.

THE WORD DOESN’T MATTER
You could put any single word on a billboard against a stock photo of nature and people will wonder and want to know what its for. The real question is what word do advertisers want their customers to see and why?

WEINER
JESUS
CULTURE
BREAD
CEREAL
ENOUGH
KITTY
EGG
Thank You.