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 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

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