Out-of-Home Runs

To me, any time you mix an ancient civilization like, say, the Babylonians, with a modern, recognizable fast-food product like a McMuffin, you've got a funny idea. And "Sundial,'' the Grand Clio winner/Billboard for McDonald's from Leo Burnett USA is just that. A delightfully unexpected combo, it's a billboard in the form of a working timepiece that's equal parts Leonardo da Vinci and Fred Flintstone. (It was up at Wrigley Field in Chicago last May through December, and will be back Tuesday through July.)

The sundial, said to have been invented in about 140 B.C., give or take a few years, according to Wikipedia, by the mathematician and astronomer Theodosius of Bithynia (so let's say it comes from the Bithynians), is one of the oldest forms of telling time ever devised by man.

In this case, the sun's shadow caused the Golden Arches to point to specific icons and the time. (A quick glance revealed whether it was half past McGriddle time, or perhaps you overslept and it was five to hotcakes, baby.) Seriously, at 7 a.m., the hands point to a McGriddle and at 8 a.m., a cinnamon roll, etc. Centuries from now, will archeologists digging in Chicago think that the government provided symbols for its non-clock-reading proletariat during the workday, alerting them as to when to take their steaming brown morning drink and their breaks for sustenance in the form of various types of spheroid globs, known today as McFood items?

My only disappointment with the project is the shadows stopped moving at 12 p.m. That's because it was a breakfast promotion that pitched themorning menu "hour by hour."

Regardless, the McAnything joke is deeply embedded in our culture (do the Gray's Anatomy people pay royalties?), so it was clever to link it with such an ancient mechanism. Who knows—maybe the sundial dates back to the story of Adam and his McRib.

Now, from sunrise we move to sunset. As charming an idea as it was, the Clio winner consisted of one billboard in Chicago pitching coffee, whereas "Earth Hour," another out-of-home idea, was a powerful energy-related concept that stopped a city in its tracks, and could actually make a difference in reducing energy use worldwide. From 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. this past March 31, a date that will go down in history as too late for a Clio entry but prime time for a Cannes contender, Leo Burnett, Sydney, and its pro bono client, the World Wildlife Federation, plunged the Australian city into (almost) total darkness. Even the most familiar signatures of the city skyline—the opera house and the Sydney Harbour Bridge—pretty much went black. In total, more than 2 million Sydney residents and 2,100 corporations, including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, took part by turning off their lights. But it's not like the city experienced the chaos of a power outage; this was carefully planned, including TV and radio spots alerting the citizenry. A voiceover by Cate Blanchett urged viewers to "Join the fight against global warming." The Internet component took off on its own; even MySpace pages got new skins that were black.

Others interested in the environment (and publicity) got into the act, like eco-warrior/musician Beck, who moved his concert so that it would take place during that hour and then performed unplugged, a couple who got married by candlelight and restaurants that served dinner sans electricity.

Most importantly, it saved energy. That act alone, according to the agency, "generated a reduction of 25 tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking 48,613 cars off the road for an hour.'' That's impressive.

Still, this was a dramatic idea executed beautifully that actually had ecological impact. Even a cynic like me can see that.

Now the WWF wants to export the idea to other cities around the world. I can't quite see it working in New York—although I'm sure Beck is ready to go acoustic.