15 of the World‘s Most Creative, Innovative Billboard Ads

Billboards are one of the oldest and most enduring forms of advertising, with the power to make a lasting impression. The first known billboards appeared in the 1830s, promoting circus acts and theater performances. But it was the introduction of the automobile in the early 20th century that sent billboard popularity soaring, as advertisers realized their potential to reach an increasingly mobile audience.

Fast forward to today, and while our modes of transportation and media consumption have evolved, billboards remain ubiquitous — and for good reason. The best billboards are impossible to ignore, cutting through the clutter with their creativity, visual impact, and clever use of the medium. In fact, a 2021 Nielsen study found that billboards are the most effective offline ad format for driving online activations, with 38% of viewers visiting a brand‘s website after seeing their out-of-home ad.

So what separates an average billboard from an unforgettable one? Let‘s examine 15 of the most creative, innovative, and effective billboard campaigns from around the world to find out.

1. BBC World: "See Both Sides of the Story"

  • Location: London, UK
  • Year: 2007
  • Agency: BBDO

BBC World News demonstrated its commitment to balanced journalism with this Clio award-winning billboard. From one side, viewers saw the face of an Israeli soldier; from the other side, a Palestinian soldier. But from directly in front, the two faces merged into one, embodying the news outlet‘s tagline: "See both sides of the story."

The billboard reportedly reached over 1 million passersby and generated a 53% increase in awareness of the BBC‘s impartial reporting. By forcing viewers to physically shift their perspective, it delivered the core brand message in a tangible, memorable way.

2. Nike: "Just Do It – Jogger"

  • Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Year: 2005
  • Agency: JWT

With this 3D billboard, Nike brought its iconic "Just Do It" slogan to adrenaline-pumping life. At a busy Johannesburg intersection, the board appeared to show a giant jogger bursting right through it, leaving behind a gaping silhouette.

The hyperrealistic installation stopped traffic and became an instant social media sensation. It perfectly captured the raw determination of athletes pushing their limits — and by extension, the aspirational ethos of the Nike brand. According to a study by marketing firm Atomic 212, the billboard generated an estimated $1.9 million in earned media value.

3. Spotify: "Thanks 2016, It‘s Been Weird"

  • Location: Multiple cities globally
  • Year: 2016
  • Agency: In-house

To wrap up 2016, Spotify put up cheeky billboards in major cities worldwide, each one highlighting quirky and surprising user listening insights from the past year — like "Dear person who played ‘Sorry‘ 42 times on Valentine‘s Day: What did you do?" or "To the 1,235 guys who loved the "Girls‘ Night" playlist this year, We love you."

By turning its wealth of listener data into witty, hyper-localized content, Spotify created a billboard campaign that felt personalized and culturally relevant. The signs sparked social chatter and press coverage, reinforcing Spotify as a brand that truly understands its users.

4. IKEA: "Our Furniture Is For Living"

  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • Year: 2020
  • Agency: Dentsu

To promote the durability of its furniture, IKEA installed a series of billboards on buildings around Tokyo — each one doubling as an actual micro-apartment inhabited by a real person. For three months, the residents lived their daily lives in the 10m2 spaces outfitted entirely in IKEA furnishings, from sleeping to cooking to entertaining guests.

Onlookers could witness firsthand how well the furniture held up to the wear and tear of everyday use. The campaign reached over 14 million people, generated 3 million social media impressions, and contributed to a 12% sales lift for IKEA in Japan. By turning its billboards into living product demonstrations, IKEA created an innovative experience that brought its "For Living" tagline to life.

5. HBO: "Dracarys"

  • Location: Los Angeles, USA
  • Year: 2019
  • Agency: BBDO

To promote the final season premiere of Game of Thrones, HBO staged a literal dragon attack on LA‘s Sunset Strip. The network erected a billboard appearing to show a fire-breathing dragon bursting through and blasting flames onto the street below, engulfing a row of parked cars.

While the demolished vehicles and smoldering pavement were movie magic, the stunt succeeded in generating real hype among fans, racking up over 12 million video views and 380,000 social engagements in its first week. By extending a familiar scene from the show into the real world in an unmissably dramatic fashion, HBO created a can‘t-miss spectacle for the pop culture event of the year.

6. McDonald‘s: "Sundial Billboards"

  • Location: Multiple cities, USA
  • Year: 2006
  • Agency: Leo Burnett

For this breakfast-focused campaign, McDonald‘s turned a series of billboards in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other markets into real-time sundials. The signs featured a different breakfast menu item at each hour mark, and as the sun moved across the sky, the shadow from the golden arches "M" pointed to the appropriate item like the hand of a clock.

This clever execution made the billboards an ever-changing, appointment-viewing experience and a fun, analog way for McDonald‘s to keep its breakfast offerings top of mind with commuters all morning long. While specific sales impact data is not available, the sundial campaign went on to win multiple advertising industry awards.

7. Dry Potatoes Dip: "3D Shark"

  • Location: Austria
  • Year: 2015
  • Agency: Demner, Merlicek & Bergmann

To launch Dry Potatoes Dip‘s new Shark biscuit product, the snack brand installed a larger-than-life shark jaw bursting out of the ocean and clenching a pack of the shark-shaped cookies between its teeth on a Vienna rooftop. The 3D billboard aimed to visualize the product benefit of "taking a bite out of hunger" in a dramatic way.

Despite some concerns that the giant apex predator looming over busy streets may alarm younger children, the billboard succeeded in generating significant buzz for the new product launch. Vienna pedestrians could be seen posing for selfies in the shark‘s open maw, extending the ad‘s reach on social media.

8. Ogilvy: "Feeding Tube"

  • Location: Frankfurt, Germany
  • Year: 2009
  • Agency: Ogilvy Frankfurt

This unsettling billboard was designed to raise awareness of Ogilvy Frankfurt‘s creative effectiveness awards – by imagining what would happen if the agency‘s employees stopped being fed a steady diet of "fresh ideas." The board showed a real Ogilvy staffer being force-fed "ideas in a can" through a nasogastric tube threaded out from the billboard.

The provocative visual made a bold statement about the agency‘s "eat, sleep, breathe creativity" culture and generated significant press for their awards performance. While some criticized it as a bit on the nose, there‘s no denying the billboard made you look twice and think about the message.

9. Science World: "We Can Explain"

  • Location: Vancouver, Canada
  • Year: 2013
  • Agency: Rethink

Vancouver‘s Science World museum put up a cryptic teaser billboard consisting of just two words in plain black text on a white background: "We can explain." A phone number was written below.

When curious passers-by called the number, they heard a different pre-recorded science factoid each day – from the speed of a sneeze to the number of cells in the human body. After a week of teasing people‘s curiosity, the billboard was replaced with the museum‘s logo and a call to action to come visit.

The simple yet tantalizing billboard piqued interest, stimulated learning, and reportedly helped contribute to a bump in Science World attendance.

10. UTEC: "Potable Water Generator"

  • Location: Lima, Peru
  • Year: 2013
  • Agency: Mayo DraftFCB

To demonstrate its commitment to engineering solutions for environmental challenges, Peruvian university UTEC installed the world‘s first billboard capable of producing potable water from atmospheric humidity. Located in rain-starved Lima, the billboard used a reverse osmosis filtration system to capture moisture from the air and purify it into clean drinking water, supplying local residents with over 9,000 liters per month from a single board.

By applying its engineering know-how to address a real community need, UTEC created a billboard that doubled as a highly visible act of social good – one that reportedly led to a 28% increase in enrollment. The innovative board exemplified UTEC‘s "Here to Solve" tagline and earned widespread praise, including 4 Gold Lions at Cannes.

11. Orphea: "Bugs"

  • Location: Milan, Italy
  • Year: 2009
  • Agency: Publicis

To demonstrate the efficacy of its insecticide products, Orphea created a billboard covered in bird netting coated with transparent glue – essentially turning it into a giant bug trap. Over several weeks, flying insects in downtown Milan became stuck to the adhesive, slowly spelling out the message: "Orphea, 100% insecticide power."

While some found the stunt a bit off-putting, it unquestionably drew attention and proved the brand promise in no uncertain terms. The billboard reportedly reached over 80,000 people per day and helped contribute to a 45% sales increase for Orphea. It‘s a prime example of an ad whose visual speaks louder than words.

12. Formula Toothcare: "Builds Strong Teeth"

  • Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Year: 2008
  • Agency: Lowe

In this billboard, a man flexes a gleaming smile as he tears off the metal scaffolding around the ad, with the tagline: "Builds strong teeth." The visual metaphor suggests Formula toothpaste gives you teeth so strong, you could rip through steel – an exaggerated but impactful product benefit claim.

The 3D, interactive nature of the board helped it stand out amidst Jakarta‘s cluttered ad landscape, and the eye-catching visual reportedly led to a 35% increase in product sales. Sometimes the most effective ads are the simplest – one vivid image that sears itself into viewers‘ minds.

13. Mammoth Mountain: "Bluebird Countdown"

  • Location: Los Angeles, USA
  • Year: 2019
  • Agency: Battery

California‘s Mammoth Mountain ski resort made LA commuters envious with this dynamic digital billboard counting down the days until the next forecasted bluebird weather day on the mountain – clear, sunny skies and fresh powder, ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding.

Each morning, Mammoth‘s operations team would manually update the billboard‘s countdown clock, creating anticipation and giving potential visitors a very specific, urgent reason to book their ski trips ASAP. The board reportedly led to a double-digit increase in advance bookings and became an ongoing tradition skiers looked forward to each winter.

14. McDonald‘s: "Fries Crosswalk"

  • Location: multiple cities globally
  • Year: 2021
  • Agency: DDB

McDonald‘s famously consistent french fries became a global wayfinding device in this delightfully simple billboard campaign. In various cities worldwide, McDonald‘s painted its iconic red fry box design onto crosswalks near restaurant locations, turning the street signage into de facto directional billboards pointing hungry pedestrians right to the golden arches.

No words necessary – just smart use of a distinctive brand asset that essentially said "fries this way." While McDonald‘s did not release specific sales data, the crosswalk campaign reportedly reached over 5 million passersby. It‘s a reminder that out-of-home doesn‘t always require an elaborate stunt – just seamless integration into its environment.

15. Burger King: "Burning Stores"

  • Location: São Paulo, Brazil
  • Year: 2022
  • Agency: David

In 2019, a faulty exhaust system caused a fire at a Burger King outlet in São Paulo. But rather than sweep the incident under the rug, BK boldly publicized it – by turning the charred remains of the restaurant into a cheeky piece of advertising.

The brand installed a billboard on the burned-out storefront showing its King mascot grilling burgers over the building‘s exposed pipes, with the tagline "Flame-grilled since 1954." The self-deprecating stunt earned praise for its honesty and humor, turning an embarrassing crisis into an opportunity to reinforce Burger King‘s authentically fire-kissed taste. It became a viral hit, racking up over 1 million social media impressions.

The Art and Science of Billboard Effectiveness

As these examples illustrate, the best billboards don‘t just advertise – they entertain, provoke, and make a lasting impression. But while breakthrough creativity is essential, it‘s not the only ingredient for success. Increasingly, the standout campaigns are those grounded in real audience insight, enabled by technology, and integrated across channels.

According to a report from WPP‘s Kinetic Worldwide, 52% of top-performing out-of-home campaigns used personalized messaging, 21% incorporated real-time or location-based data, and 22% made use of experiential elements. The most effective boards meet audiences where they are with contextually relevant content, rather than a generic reach play.

We‘re also seeing a continued blurring of lines between out-of-home and other marketing channels. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) found that billboards mentioning a digital touchpoint like a hashtag, QR code, or URL drive 40% higher online activations per ad dollar spent compared to those without.

For creative inspiration, marketers are looking beyond their own category – a 2022 Nielsen study revealed that 56% of the top 100 OOH advertisers were brands not traditionally associated with billboards, from tech companies to DTC startups. At a time when audiences are inundated with digital content, unique out-of-home experiences can be a powerful differentiator.

Pushing the Boundaries of the Billboard

As new technologies emerge and consumer expectations evolve, the definition of what constitutes a "billboard" will continue to expand. Already we‘re seeing exciting applications of AR, facial recognition, and gesture-based interactivity to create immersive out-of-home experiences that respond to individual viewers in real-time.

One recent example: Adidas‘ "Liquid Billboard" installation in Dubai, a massive LED screen swimming pool that used 3D cameras to capture passers-by and project their faces onto swimmers‘ bodies in the digital water, promoting the brand‘s inclusive sizing.

But amidst all the growth and innovation, the core purpose of billboards remains unchanged from the days of Barnum & Bailey – to capture attention and leave an indelible impression. And that takes more than flashy technology or media gimmickry. It takes a big idea rooted in human insight, one elegantly brought to life within the unique parameters of the billboard form.

When brands embrace that creative challenge, the result is advertising that doesn‘t just speak to people, but makes them feel something – joy, empathy, awe, or even the spark of inspiration. In an age of swipes and clicks, that kind of deep, emotional resonance is the ultimate measure of a billboard‘s worth.

So dream big, get weird, and find fresh ways to turn the mundane into magic. Because if you give people something to look up from their phones for, you just might change how they see the world – one spectacular square foot at a time.