The Timeless Power of Out-of-Home Advertising

Written by Jonathan Baker
Contributor: Rich DeSimone, VP, Creative at EGC

Simply put, innovative out-of-home (OOH) advertising works. History proves this. How so? Consider two examples: A shaving cream promotion from one hundred years ago and a recent campaign by iconic sportswear giant Nike. (March Madness fans, take note!)

Brilliance of OOH advertising goes way back

It’s obvious that traditional print advertising which showed up in newspapers, magazines, and billboards attracted attention “back in the day” before the advent of radio, television, and eventually the digital age. Billboards had a unique place in advertising, however, by virtue of the fact they were out-of-home. Case in point: The campaigns for Burma-Shave.

What’s “Burma-Shave”?

In the 1920s, Burma-Vita—a company based in Minneapolis, MN—launched a brushless shaving cream brand named Burma-Shave. (This was a novelty at that time, because the only way to create lather was to stir shaving cream with a bristled handheld brush.) Complementing this novelty of brushless shaving cream was the far and wide promotion of Burma-Shave.

The Burma-Shave billboards

In 1926, billboards that advertised Burma-Shave began appearing close to its home state of Minnesota and eventually branched out throughout most of the United States, where they remained a staple of the brand’s marketing for several decades. The uniqueness of the campaign, however, was that these billboards were what may be called a “sequential series.”

Connecting the dots, from one billboard to the next

Burma-Shave’s OOH strategy consisted of a series of billboards placed in consecutive order along the edges of major highways that drivers noticed as they drove on a particular route. The first sign began what became a complete marketing message, with the final sign reading simply “Burma-Shave.” Here’s an example:

  • Billboard 1: “If You Dislike”
  • Billboard 2: “Big Traffic Fines”
  • Billboard 3: “Slow Down”
  • Billboard 4: “Till You”
  • Billboard 5: “Can Read These Signs”
  • Billboard 6: “Burma-Shave”

Memorable and impactful, yes? Burma-Shave maintained this strategy until 1963 when Burma-Vita was acquired by the Phillip Morris Agency. At one point during this run, however, Burma-Shave was among the top-selling shaving cream brands in the country, due in no small part to its inventive OOH advertising.

Fast-forward to today

Now comes the moment that March Madness fans will appreciate. A recent campaign engineered by Nike took a similar but shorter approach to Burma-Shave’s historic strategy. As a sponsor of Caitlin Clark, the college basketball star from the Iowa Hawkeyes, Nike devised an OOH setup that has made citizens of Iowa City genuinely look up and take notice.

Caitlin Clark: Star college basketball player

As covered in The Spun, Caitlin Clark became the lead scorer of all time in college basketball after sinking two free throws in the first half of a game played opposite Ohio State. The well-deserved praise and accolades that resulted from this event was a win not only for Caitlin but college basketball. A clever campaign, courtesy of Nike, capitalized on these collective wins, scoring an equally big win.

The Caitlin Clark/Nike OOH campaign

In Iowa City, a vertical billboard covered the height of a building, showing Caitlin Clark jumping high, throwing a basketball. A few hundred yards away, across the street, there is another vertical billboard which read: “This was never a long shot,” featuring logos for both Nike and Iowa Hawkeyes Women’s Basketball. An actual basketball hoop completes the signage. Two billboards create a single and powerful impression.

Image Credit: The Spun

What worked then also works now

Following in the footsteps of the Burma-Shave model, Nike made an impression with its own OOH campaign where each sign depends on the other to complete the brand messaging. (The difference is that Nike’s campaign can be viewed and appreciated within walking distance, as well as making the most of newsworthy current events.) Indeed, this Nike campaign is literally over-the-top out-of-home advertising.

As a full-service marketing agency, the EGC Group considers traditional forms of advertising, such as OOH, as relevant as the latest cutting-edge digital trends. (In fact, check out our 2023 holiday promotion for KISS Products, which combined digital and OOH in a best-of-both-worlds campaign.)

If you are looking for a brand refresh that will make potential customers stop and look, get in touch.

Whether your taste in advertising is for traditional, digital—or both—we’ll make your brand stand out.