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Connected canvases: creative director behind Call of Duty billboards on OOH trends

Amplify’s Alex Wilson was one of the creatives behind recent headline-grabbing Call of Duty billboards. For our out-of-home Deep Dive, Wilson predicts where the space will go next...

To read the original article, published on 14th December 2022, visit The Drum.

In November 2022, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II became the fastest-selling title in the iconic franchise. It was both the highest-grossing game and the highest-grossing piece of entertainment in 2022.

How did they achieve this? The answer is layered. Activision's approach to their players (not gamers) is to put them first always, as they constantly strive to elevate the game, not interrupt it.

Activision understands the value of experience: just because something is experienced in the virtual world, it doesn’t make it a virtual memory to the player. They also understand that gaming is more social than social media, with a shared and unifying point of entry for its community.

It was this shared entry point that Amplify looked to celebrate with the global launch of the newest entry in the Call of Duty franchise with a real-world storyline, outside the universe of the game to launch it to the world.

Going dark

Using multiple OOH canvases, the campaign told a character-driven narrative that turned major cities ‘dark’ IRL.

The truth of anamorphic is that the vast majority experience it through content online rather than at ground level on the street, so we used it to create a launch film that lived through social, using screens in New York and London to showcase four key characters from the game. It was all tied together and augmented by a launch film that featured in-game footage, real world capture, VFX augmentation and additional OOH moments including the Oculus screen at the So-Fi stadium in California.

Characters from the gaming IP launched their own game in the real world.

Connected canvases

Real-time connected canvases have started to appear in more geographically-linked sites to. For a character reveal for Riot Games’ Valorant in Dubai, two opposing screens across the street were seemingly linked, with one billboard triggering the other as the character fired a pulse blast from one to the other.

Treating OOH sites as integrated moments of a larger campaign is how brands can ensure authenticity and impact. Although standalone activations can garner attention and clicks, the opportunity to worldbuild and connect to audiences are vast.

But it doesn’t need to be anamorphic to be an interwoven piece of storytelling, or to generate mass awareness. For Netflix’s Stranger Things: S4, multiple ‘Rifts’ were teased and created through physical builds, lighting and projection installations across twelve countries. It was an example of brands worldbuilding, and pulling that new IP into our reality.

No logo?

Elsewhere, disruptive takes on traditional media sites can be impactful too. McDonalds created a series of unbranded ‘Bitten Billboards’ around Paris, featuring simple back-lit images of popular menu items with giant bite marks as part of the design.

Not featuring logos is a brave move and something that we could well see more of as we move closer to treating advertising as entertainment.

Cohesive storytelling doesn’t need to be driven by a storyline or IP. It can be based on incepting people’s imaginations and having them complete the picture. A fantastic example is CPB London’s work for #BreakTheBias: series of on- and offline copy-driven provocations that got audiences and consumers to address their own unconscious bias in real-time. “Imagine a CEO. Is it a man?”. “Imagine someone crying in the office. Is it a woman?”. The campaign brought in education at grassroots level, introducing a coloring book, asking children to draw what they imagine certain roles play and by whom.

The human medium

What of using human beings as the media space themselves?

In September 2022 actors were placed in high-profile, highly-covered events such as Major League Baseball games, creepily smiling directly at the camera for prolonged periods of time. Sometimes wearing Smile t-shirts, these living guerrilla placements were used as Trojan Horses to drive conversation wild on Twitter, all for Paramount’s modest-budget horror film. It doubled its money on opening weekend.

In 2023, we may well see brands starting to harness the elements of the above. We need to think about OOH sites as part of interconnected canvases for storytelling; key beats in integrated campaigns, not just big, shiny moments to make a splash.

Worldbuilding around product or IP through disruptive media will unlock huge awareness opportunities for authentic entertainment engagement.