Published: August 10, 2023

The 3D billboard is advertising’s shiny new toy

“Over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen tremendous interest and growth in anamorphic 3D billboards,” one out-of-home exec told us.

Two years ago, a massive 3D cat showed up on a billboard in Tokyo. People who walked by took photos of the cat as it meowed, napped, and licked its paws.

“I think that was one of the biggest reasons that [3D billboards] got popular in Tokyo,” Sungeun Jang, a staffer on out-of-home advertising agency Kesion’s overseas development team, told us. The LED screen, situated above one of Tokyo’s largest train stations, attracted crowds and global  news  coverage.

Since then, brands ranging from  Louis Vuitton to Pokémon Go have advertised in that same space.

3D billboards have grown in popularity around the world over the past few years, offering a new way for companies like  Google and  BMW to capture attention. Even though the availability of 3D billboard space is limited, and placing them can be cost-prohibitive, marketers in the OOH sector told us they’re seeing increased interest from brands.

Jang said approximately one out of 10 client inquiries that Kesion, which has worked with luxury car and fashion brands on 3D billboards, receives are for the burgeoning format.

Josh Scharfberg, president, New York, at OOH firm Clear Channel Outdoor, which has helped with 3D billboards for Netflix, Balenciaga, and Paramount, echoed Jang’s sentiment. “Over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen tremendous interest and growth in anamorphic 3D billboards,” he said. “We’ve seen it across all industries—everything from entertainment to high-end fashion to automotive. It’s industry agnostic.”

Prime real estate

In its most recent ad spend forecast, Dentsu said it expects spending on digital out-of-home advertising to increase nearly 7% this year, in part thanks to “holographic projections and 3D technology” in the space.

While marketers may have expressed interest in these ads, there are some factors that could be limiting, depending on a marketer’s goals.

For starters, according to Milton Lebron, co-founder and executive creative director at creative agency Might & Matter, 3D billboards are often only available in larger cities like New York or London. “I’m currently in Miami and haven’t seen any kind of displays like that, to be honest,” he said.

Jang said there are only a few 3D billboards for advertisers to choose from. She explained that while 3D content can be played on flat screens, brands are typically interested in curved or “box-shaped” screens that help the imagery pop.

“Those mediums are very limited, actually, ” Jang said.

Another constraint that can come with 3D billboard advertisements? Pricing. 3D billboards can cost much more to secure than more traditional ones, according to Lebron, and that cost can go up depending on factors like complexity and location.

“The return of investment is obvious, but you still have to have that kind of budget in your media plan to be able to produce something like that,” he said.

Social cues

The spend could be worth it, however: Jang said companies may splurge on 3D billboards because of the online hype they can generate.

“3D content itself is a marketing tool now because people share them through social media,” she said, explaining that this can spur marketers to invest in them even if they’re “super expensive to create.”

Scharfberg said the 3D billboards it’s worked on in Times Square have been “really enhanced by using social media. It creates that wow factor. And, of course, it can go viral.”

Earlier this year, Nike rolled out a 3D billboard in Hangzhou, China, to celebrate Air Max Day. A video of the billboard garnered more than 50,000 views on TikTok.

Last fall, BMW debuted a 3D billboard in Times Square to promote its XM SUV. A YouTube video of the ad has more than 1.3 million views on YouTube.

“The pull for BMW in the long run was the reach potential on social. People walking by the activation IRL and then sharing the visual via social gave this NYC-based activation national reach,” company spokesperson Luke Parker told us via email.

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