16 Brilliant Outdoor Ads That Rocked the Real World in 2016

Intriguing, amazing and hilarious executions from all over the world

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Out-of-home remains one of our favorite advertising mediums. Yes, so much of it is an eyesore, but when it's great, there's almost nothing better. There's something particularly delightful about great work that lives in the physical world and not on a screen. The best outdoor work is immediate, visceral, instantly relevant—and just real—in ways advertising always strives to be.

This gallery of great outdoor advertising from 2016 has executions that are all over the map, literally and figuratively. We travel from the U.S. to Canada to France to Australia to find great ideas delivered in clever, thoughtful and often hilarious ways. Each piece of work generated an enormous reaction—a good reminder that in the age of the internet, even single executions can have global reach.

Congrats to all the brands and agencies on the list. 

16. Patricia Houlihan Shoots Lasers Out of Her Eyes

Agency: Immersion Creative, Vancouver

We'll start off with a goofy one, but it's too good to pass up. Patricia Houlihan, a real estate agent in Vancouver, put up a single bus-stop advertisement in Burnaby, B.C. Before long, it was on the front page of Reddit. The brilliantly campy creation was made by Mike Catherall, creative director at Immersion Creative. He'd been trying to get Houlihan to run it for years. Catherall told Adweek earlier this year: "I dug up that campaign from the archives. I said, "What do you think, should we give this a shot?' She always thought it was kind of funny, so we were like, 'Sure, why not?' What I love about it is that it is irreverent, fun and totally different than the literally hundreds of realtor ads in Vancouver at the moment that are all so boring and cliché." Mission accomplished.

15. Audi – Wifi Jack

Agency: Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer, San Francisco

Audi hit the New York Auto Show in March with an insidiously clever tech hack. It set up a bunch of free Wi-Fi networks—Wi-Fi is hard to find at auto shows, and usually password protected—and gave them names that doubled as ads for the A4 (and as attack ads on BMW's 328i as well). The stunt was "a modern version of challenger advertising, where a superior product takes on the old standard," Matejczyk told Adweek. "And marketing being what it is these days, why not offer a really helpful service in the process?"


14. Reebok – Are You Fast Enough?

Agency: Animal, Stockholm

Back in February in Stockholm, Reebok put up an outdoor ad equipped with a built-in speed cam and tracking technology to measure pedestrians' pace. Anyone who ran past the ad faster than 17 kilometers per hour (about 10.5 miles per hour) unlocked a brand new pair of ZPump 2.0 shoes. "We really like the idea of taking a classic billboard and turning it into something disruptive and unique," said Markus Schramm, creative at ad agency Animal.


13. Glimpse Collective – #CatsNotAds

Agency: Glimpse Collective, London

In May, a Kickstarter quietly popped up looking for donations to replace the entire ad inventory of one London Underground station with pictures of cats. By September, the dream was a reality. Commuters passing through the Clapham Common Tube station were met by feline friends. "We tried to imagine a world where public spaces made you feel good. We hope people will enjoy being in the station and maybe think a bit differently about the world around them," Glimpse founder and #CatsNotAds leader James Turner said. "Instead of asking you to buy something, we're asking you to think about what's really valuable in your life. It might not be cats, but it's probably something you can't find in the shops."


12. Bonds – The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind

Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne

Australian underwear brand Bonds had a big hit in 2015 with "The Boys," a video campaign starring a couple of talking testicles. In 2016, they took the campaign outdoors with a seven-story-high weather billboard in downtown Melbourne, on which the lads reacted in real time to cold, warmth and wind. In cold weather, the boys shrank toward the top of the billboard. In warm weather, they descended and hung freely. They got swung about whenever the wind blew, too. "While we pioneered a technology more than two years ago to serve up advertising based on average temperatures, this campaign takes it to a whole new level using live RSS feeds," said oOh! media CEO Brendon Cook.

11. Ikea – 25 Square Meters

Agency: POL, Oslo

Those shopping for the comforts of home at an Ikea in Norway were confronted firsthand with the difficult living conditions in Syria. Next to its typical showrooms, Ikea built a replica of a real Syrian home—25 square meters of cinder block walls and meager furnishings. Furniture tags asked for Red Cross donations. "We already had a lot of footage from within Syria, but no matter how emotional it was, nothing got close to the experience of visiting people in a war zone," POL art director Snorre Martinsen told Adweek. "Placing a Syrian home next to all the Scandinavian homes was obviously a brave move from the warehouse, but it made it clearer than any TV commercial how crucial it is to donate and help." 


10. Elevation Pictures – Snowden Billboard

Agency: DentsuBos, Toronto

To promote Oliver Stone's film Snowden, about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Elevation Pictures put up a billboard that spied on pedestrians in Toronto and streamed footage of their movements on the street. "It was very interesting seeing people's reactions," said Jon Frier, creative director at DentsuBos. "Some felt violated, some terrified, and some even praised it as the creepiest thing ever. Funnily, almost all looked around to see if there were other cameras spying on them. Which in itself is very telling."

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.