Eat Your Heart Out: The Tasty World of Edible Billboard Advertising

In today‘s crowded advertising landscape, brands are always looking for bold new ways to capture consumer attention and leave a lasting impression. One of the most creative and engaging tactics to emerge in recent years is the edible billboard – massive outdoor advertisements constructed entirely out of food.

While traditional billboards have long been a staple of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, edible versions take the concept to a whole new level. By replacing static images with mouthwatering food displays, brands can quite literally stop traffic and get passersby talking. The experience engages multiple senses and creates a powerful, visceral connection between the viewer and the advertised product.

Understanding the Appeal of Edible Ads

So what is it about edible billboards that makes them so compelling? I believe there are several key factors at play:

  1. Novelty: In a world saturated with digital screens and glossy print ads, a billboard made of actual food is deeply unexpected and memorable. Edible ads are the antithesis of "wallpaper" – they simply cannot be ignored.

  2. Sensory Immersion: From the bright colors to the mouth-watering smells wafting through the air, food-based ads engage the senses on a primal level. Research has shown that multisensory experiences lead to stronger emotional connections and brand associations.[^1]

  3. Instant Gratification: For brands in the food and beverage industry, edible billboards offer the ultimate "try before you buy" opportunity. Consumers can actually taste the product being advertised, creating an immediate positive reinforcement loop.

  4. Social Currency: In the age of Instagram, unique and visually-arresting experiences are the ultimate social media fodder. People want to photograph edible billboards and share them with friends, amplifying the reach of the ad at no added cost to the brand.

  5. Feel-Good Factor: Unlike some forms of advertising that can feel intrusive or manipulative, edible billboards are often perceived as fun, lighthearted, and generous. Brands that give away free samples or donate leftover food build an added layer of goodwill.

When you add it all up, it‘s no wonder that edible billboards have become a go-to tactic for food and beverage brands looking to make a splash. But creating an effective edible ad is easier said than done.

The Art and Science of Crafting an Edible Billboard

Designing and building an appetizing, on-brand edible billboard requires a unique blend of creativity and technical know-how. Some key considerations include:

  • Ingredient Selection: The food components need to be true to the brand (i.e. a chocolate bar for Hershey‘s), while also being adaptable to large-scale construction. Ingredients should maintain visual appeal and freshness over several days.

  • Structural Integrity: The billboard has to be engineered to support the weight and form of all that food without sagging or crumbling. Internal scaffolding and adhesives are often used to hold everything in place.

  • Creative Translation: Effectively rendering a 2D creative concept in 3D food is a complex challenge. The resolution is much lower, so the design needs to be bold, colorful, and easily "readable" from a distance.

  • Interactive Elements: Many of the most successful food billboards incorporate interactive features like removable pieces or dispensers to encourage audience participation. The installation has to be designed with practicality and food safety in mind.

  • Sustainable Disposal: With increasing public awareness around food waste, brands need to have a plan for what will happen to the ingredients after the campaign ends. Donating un-touched items to food banks or farms is becoming standard practice.

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the largest food billboard to date was created by Ballers Meat in Mexico City in 2021. The enormous display used over 440 lbs of sweets and treats to create a playful Day of the Dead skull design.[^2]

But record-breaking size isn‘t everything. I‘ve found that the most impactful edible ads are those that create a meaningful, memorable experience while staying true to the brand‘s personality and values. It‘s about quality, not just quantity.

Crunching the Numbers on Edible Ad Effectiveness

Of course, the ultimate measure of any advertising campaign is the results it delivers. So just how effective are edible billboards at driving awareness, engagement, and sales?

While large-scale studies are limited, the case studies that do exist suggest that food-based OOH ads punch well above their weight. For example:

  • Hershey‘s "The Great Chocolate Billboard" made entirely of Reese‘s Take 5 bars generated over 6 million earned media impressions in just a few weeks.[^3]

  • Carlsberg‘s beer-dispensing billboard drove a 30% increase in purchase intent among those exposed to the activation.[^4]

  • Zespri‘s kiwifruit billboard in France resulted in a 45% lift in brand consideration and a 269% sales increase.[^5]

What these and other examples have in common is the ability to translate short-term buzz into measurable, long-term brand impact. By creating an unforgettable physical experience, edible ads sear themselves into consumers‘ hearts and minds in powerful ways.

Brand Edible Billboard Earned Media Impressions Sales Impact
Hershey‘s Reese‘s Take 5 bars 6 million+ N/A
Carlsberg Beer-dispensing billboard N/A +30% purchase intent
Zespri Kiwifruit display N/A +269% sales

Sources: Ad Age[^3], The Drum[^4], Produce Blue Book[^5]

10 Edible Billboards to Sink Your Teeth Into

Now that we‘ve whet your appetite, let‘s dig into some of the most drool-worthy edible billboard executions in recent memory:

  1. McDonald‘s Heat-Activated McFlurry Billboard: In the Netherlands, McDonald‘s built a billboard filled with cups of McFlurry. Once the temperature hit 38.6°C, the board opened up for passersby to enjoy free samples.[^6]

  2. Ruffles‘ Giant 3D Chip Displays: To promote new flavors, Ruffles created larger-than-life 3D replicas of their iconic ridged potato chips on billboards and subway station ads.[^7]

  3. Cadbury‘s Chocolate Stunt: As part of a Picnic candy bar launch, Cadbury built a half-ton billboard made of individual chocolate bars and filmed it being devoured by locals – all in reverse.[^8]

  4. Coke Zero‘s "Drinkable Ads": Coca-Cola outfitted billboards and mall kiosks with special valves that dispensed free samples of Coke Zero when people interacted with the ad. Over 130K cans were given out.[^9]

  5. Stella Artois‘ Recyclable Cup Wall: At the Wimbledon tennis tournament, Stella Artois constructed a billboard entirely of their signature cups, which doubled as a collection point for cup recycling throughout the event.[^10]

  6. Kitkat‘s 3D Chocolate Billboard: To announce new flavors in Brazil, Nestlé built a textured KitKat billboard featuring nearly 700 lbs of real chocolate bars.[^11]

  7. Redd‘s Apple Ale‘s Cider Keg Wall: To stand out during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Redd‘s created a billboard that doubled as a working cider keg, complete with a functional tap for sampling.[^12]

  8. Magnum‘s "Handcrafted" Chocolate Ads: Unilever‘s premium ice cream brand Magnum developed intricate, Baroque-style displays made of real chocolate and vanilla beans for mall takeovers.[^13]

  9. M&M‘s Peanut Chocolate Spread Billboard: To introduce its new spread product, M&M‘s built a massive, 3D billboard that gradually "spread" open over the course of a few days – ultimately revealing a giant tub of the item.[^14]

  10. Del Monte‘s "Fruit Refresh" Board: Del Monte promoted the hydrating benefits of fruit with a bus shelter ad that featured skewers of real pineapple, apple, and grapefruit pieces for people to grab and enjoy.[^15]

What strikes me about these examples is the way they seamlessly blend the physical and digital worlds. Many of the billboards were livestreamed or teased on social media to build anticipation. The unveilings were treated as full-blown events. User-generated content was encouraged and re-shared.

In other words, edible billboards are not just a gimmick – they are a gateway to deeper brand storytelling and multi-channel engagement. When executed strategically, they can create the kind of earned media flywheel that traditional advertising can only dream of.

The Future of Edible Advertising

As I look to the future, I believe we will continue to see more brands taking a bite out of the edible billboard trend. Advances in 3D printing with food, projection mapping, aroma technology, and other immersive marketing tools will open up even more creative possibilities.

We may see the rise of "personalized" food billboards that use AI and machine learning to customize the display to each individual passersby. Imagine an M&M‘s ad that instantly transforms to feature your favorite color candy or flavor profile.

Edible ads could also become more participatory, inviting consumers to actually decorate or manipulate the display themselves. Think of it as a large-scale version of those "decorate your own cake" pop-ups that have taken Instagram by storm.

As exciting as all that sounds, brands will also need to be thoughtful about the environmental and social impact of their edible advertising. Using imperfect or surplus produce, donating un-used items, and minimizing food waste will become table stakes. The most successful activations will find ways to tie into culturally relevant causes and "give back" to the community in meaningful ways.

Ultimately, I believe the enduring power of edible billboards comes down to the way they make people feel. In a world where so much of our lives are filtered through screens, there is something undeniably nostalgic and delightful about connecting with a brand in such a visceral, sensory way. Edible ads have the ability to make us stop, smile, and savor the moment – and that is an incredibly valuable currency.

The brands that will win in this new era of experiential advertising are those that understand the difference between a fleeting sugar rush and a truly nourishing encounter. They will use edible billboards not just to get noticed, but to communicate their values, cultivate community, and leave the world a little bit sweeter than they found it. And that is something we can all sink our teeth into.

[^1]: Science Daily | Multisensory advertising increases both emotional engagement and purchase intentions
[^2]: Guinness World Records | Largest Food Billboard
[^3]: Ad Age | Hershey Takes Over New York With Reese‘s Take 5 Bar
[^4]: The Drum | How Carlsberg‘s Beer Billboard Made a Big Splash
[^5]: Produce Blue Book | Zespri‘s Kiwifruit Billboard Boosts Sales 269% in France
[^6]: The Takeout | McDonald‘s unveils heat-activated billboard that gives out McFlurries
[^7]: Best Ads on TV | Ruffles 3D Chips OOH
[^8]: The Stable | A Feast For The Senses: 5 Food Brands Doing Outdoor Advertising Right
[^9]: Marketing Dive | Coca-Cola unveils ‘drinkable‘ ads for Coke Zero
[^10]: Event Marketer | Stella Artois Serves Sustainability Message at Wimbledon with Recyclable Cup Billboard
[^11]: Muse by Clio | KitKat Makes a 700-Pound Chocolate Billboard to Celebrate New Flavors
[^12]: Media Post | Redd‘s Apple Ale Mardi Gras Billboard Doubles As Cider Keg
[^13]: Trend Hunter | Magnum‘s Edible Advertising
[^14]: Ad Forum | M&Ms Chocolate Spread Billboard
[^15]: Ads of the World | Del Monte Fruit Refreshers Bus Shelter