Opinion

Form Is Function: Billboards Offer a Place to Rest or Escape the Rain

IBM Billboard
IBM Billboard (screenshots taken from Ogilvy Paris)

Some ideas are so simple it’s kind of crazy they haven’t been thought of before, especially given the constant exhaustion of creativity in advertising. But these billboards from IBM — which act as ramps, benches, or rain shelters — represent a particular triumph of form and function.

IBM Billboard
Billboard rain shelter
IBM Billboard
Billboard with a ramp bent out of it

The outdoor advertisements for IBM’s People for Smarter Cities initiative were created by Ogilvy France and are just bent sheetmetal structures that become places to sit, wait out a storm, roll up a ramp over stairs, and, IBM hopes, sites for people to engage with their advertising — the message being that smarter cities come from thinking of better ideas for even basic things like billboards.

IBM Billboard
Using a Vélib bike on a billboard
IBM Billboard
Skateboarders relaxing on the bench billboard

The design might actually be so good that it overshadows that message. IBM’s relatively chaotic People for Smarter Cities website the ad directs you to visit doesn’t have any of the simplicity as the billboards, though it is ostensibly about how to get involved in urban planning (presumably by buying some IBM tools first). However, they billboards are still smart demonstrations of how advertising and design can collaborate on small, uncomplicated projects that actually connect with viewers, and not just in a passive way. And there’s no better way to communicate brand goodwill than to keep people dry in the rain or give them a sudden ramp to roll cumbersome luggage up some steps.

You can see all of the billboards in action in this video on the Ogilvy Paris Vimeo account.

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