I want to share a series of billboards which I think are great because:
- It makes you think about and compare two brands, pick a side and stick to it.
- It’s reactive in that the advertisers responded to the feedback and kept the momentum going with new billboards — this is rare, most billboards are static and get old fast.
- It won across channels, went viral online and had built-in community participation.
I hope you love cars as much as I do. Let’s roll!
It all started with the 35th BMW Club Motorcycle Owners of America Rally, which was hosted in Milwaukee, WI in 2007. The Rally is an annual event, where motorcycle owners take road trips to, gather for a few days and have fun.
The local BMW dealership promoted the event with this ad:
An Audi dealership in California picked up the joke, and teased BMW by putting this up:
Since they couldn’t expect everyone to get the Milwaukee reference, Audi came out with a more straightforward billboard in the same place a few days later:
Alright, that’s as clear as it gets. Shots fired!
Time for BMW to strike back. And strike back, they did:
“Checkmate” sounds pretty final and is a powerful counter. It sticks with the chess references, but simultaneously ends the conversation.
It’s hard to come back from that. So Audi did something really smart: they took the conversation online and had their fans generate possible responses by photoshopping more billboards.
Some clever ideas emerged:
But the most widely circulated (and hard to make out as photoshopped) image was this one:
By now, the whole thing had long gone viral, and the Audi fan submissions of course spurred on BMW fans to do the same — without even being prompted by BMW directly.
All the photoshop action aside, Audi eventually put up a new, real billboard, that acknowledged the prior war, yet steered the conversation in a new direction:
BMW later moved its own billboard elsewhere, and the whole thing came to a close.
So who’s the winner here?
Most people will pick one of the two in their minds at one point either way. Whether you’re an Audi fan or a BMW fan, at least, after this, you knew.
The result are new fans for both brands. And if you had picked a brand before, this increased your loyalty even further, especially thanks to the chance to participate.
What’s the best billboard ever created?
It’s the billboard that lives in the right context, at the right time.
- The billboard that makes way for a new billboard, when the joke gets old.
- The billboard that transcends the limitations of paper, and lives forever online.
- The billboard that gets people to look at it, point and say: “that’s me.”
British Airways found a really cool way of doing so in 2013. What they did was to install a video billboard in Piccadilly Circus in London, which showed a little child sitting down. Every time a British Airways machine flew over the location, the kid would get up, walk a few steps, and point at the sky.
This real-time flight tracker even included flight number and other information.
How would you feel if that kid pointed to your brother’s plane, as it makes its way to the United States for a semester abroad?
Better yet, you’ll think: “I want that kid to point at my next flight too!”
In that sense, maybe the best billboard ever created is the “See yourself on the big screen!” one at Times Square.