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.
The stunt was visually remarkable, and no small feat to produce. “We should probably apologize to the designers at the Irish Daily Mail, who had to sit up all night combing through the entire magazine replacing black dots, one by one,” said Rothco creative director Shane O’Brien.
Kentucky for Kentucky
A little trolling can make for a fun print ad, too, particularly when you’re targeting a specific magazine’s readers.
Kentucky for Kentucky, the organization that unofficially promotes the state of Kentucky, and its spinoff brand Southern Socks did just that with a wonderfully sneaky ad in Oxford American—one that offended the publication’s literary-minded readers with a big honking typo at the top.
“We speak you’re language,” said the headline on the full-page ad.
Copy below explained: “We know. It’s ‘your’ not ‘you’re.’ We just figured that a typo would be the best way for our ad to stand out in a fine publication like Oxford American magazine. But nice catch anyway, William Faulkner.”
Whit Hiler, co-founder of Kentucky for Kentucky (and a creative director at Lexington agency Cornett by day), told us that the editors at Oxford American loved it. “I was a little worried they wouldn’t,” he admitted. “We’re friends with their poetry editor, Rebecca Gayle Howell—she’s actually featured in our ad. She thought it was really funny as well. Knowing us, I think they kind of expected we would try to pull some shit like this in our ad.”
Snowbird Ski Resort
If you’re a ski resort, you have to advertise in ski magazines. But Snowbird gave that dusty old media buy a different spin this year. The ads featured one-star reviews from people who’d complained about Snowbird, but for reasons that other skiers might find enticing.
“Too advanced,” read one review. “I’d heard Snowbird is a tough mountain, but this is ridiculous. It felt like every trail was a steep chute or littered with tree wells. How is anyone supposed to ride in that? Not fun!”
Snowbird’s agency, Struck, combed through years of Snowbird reviews and hand selected the ones that would work best. “We’re known for our steep terrain, long runs and deep snow,” said Snowbird marketing director David Amirault. “For beginner skiers and snowboarders, they often find this to be a challenge. However, for our core guest, it’s what makes them come back year after year.”
Finally, we have McDonald’s France, which reminded us that print advertising is also great for just showing beautiful, simple visuals.
In perhaps its most artful McD’s campaign so far, TBWA\Paris got French sculptor Olivier Favart to create intricate light installations resembling three menu items—the Big Mac, french fries and sundae—and then had Helmut Stelzenberger photographed them with a bokeh effect, which blurs the out-of-focus points of light.
This gave the images the effect of nighttime, reinforcing the message of the ads, which is that McDonald’s is “Open late.”