In the age of AI, VR, long-form film and mobile wizardry, print advertising doesn’t get much respect anymore. Still, it remains a medium like no other—one that most purely distills the expression of an idea down to the writing and art direction, and one whose seeming limitations can make breakthrough executions feel that much more unexpected and delightful.
Below, check out seven print campaigns from 2017 that restored our faith in the creativity of the medium.
The year’s most audacious print campaign was “Burning Stores,” created by David Miami for Burger King, which showed actual BK restaurants on fire next to the headline “Flame grilled since 1954.” The idea of showing one’s brand at its worst possible moment was ridiculously brave, or perhaps bravely ridiculous, with the tie-in to flame-grilling serving as the wink that pulled the ads together.
“Burning Stores” also embodied a new way of thinking, among many brands, that the only way to engage with audiences today is with transparency and authenticity. “Burning Stores” simply took this idea to extremes. Grey Africa’s Fran Luckin, chair of the Print & Publishing jury at Cannes, where “Burning Stores” won the Grand Prix, touched on this when she called “Burning Stores” the perfect print ads for the social media age.
“We’ve got a brand being brave enough to be authentic,” she said. “It’s a move away from having every single piece of print communication be so carefully crafted and put out there as an official announcement. There’s a sense here of being more playful, more authentic, a sense that you can be a little bit more edgy in your communication.”
She added: “I once heard a Coca-Cola executive use the work ‘flawsome,’ which I loved. In the social media age, where people can find out information about your brand quite easily, you have to be a little bit more real. You embrace your imperfections. You have more of a sense of humor about your corporate image. [Burger King] is a brand that’s brave enough to stick its tongue in its cheek and be a little bit young again.”
The VIA Agency brought its new “Be an Outsider” tagline for L.L.Bean memorably to life with a clever newspaper ad that could only be read outdoors.
At first glance, the ad—if you were reading it indoors—appeared almost blank, with text scattered across the page that read, “Just bring this outside.” Readers who did so saw invisible text suddenly become visible, revealing a whole “Be an Outsider” manifesto.
The ad was made with photochromic ink, which is colorless indoors but turns different colors when exposed to ultraviolet light, usually from the sun or a black light. The execution perfectly embodied the brand promise—in other words, the medium was the message. “It took the confluence of a great strategy, a creative solution and incredible technology for VIA to pull off a modern twist using a traditional medium,” said Teddy Stoecklein, executive creative director at VIA.
Another fun magazine stunt saw Toyota place a very cool ad in The Fader—a flip book style animation, running across 30 consecutive editorial pages, that showed the C-HR vehicle spinning around the page numbers and driving off the page, leaving a fuchsia trail behind it. The animation led to a full-page print ad, also heavy on the fuchsia, touting the impressive new crossover as a car with “good looks” and “bad intentions.”
“We still have our print product, so why not continue to try to do fun things with it?” said Fader president and publisher Andy Cohn. “We do tons of graphic design, and feature lots of graphic artists. It felt very in line with the aesthetic.”
The product choice was important, too. “If it was a Toyota minivan, I don’t think it would have worked out,” Cohn admitted.
This Irish telecom eir, and its agency Rothco, dreamed up a crazy magazine stunt to promote its cell coverage—in particular, the elimination of “black spots” in your home. It did this by replacing every black dot in an entire issue of the Irish Daily Mail’s It’s Friday magazine with colored dots.
Every single period, every dot in a colon and semi-colon, every dot above a letter i or j (known as tittles)—they all became colored. “At eir, we don’t like black spots. Which is why we’ve gotten rid of them in this magazine. And we can get rid of them in your home and office too,” the brand said in a full-page ad in the same magazine.