Mike Caguin's OBIE Awards Recap

I feel pretty lucky. As a member of the 2014 OBIE Awards and chief judge, I got to see the most dynamic out-of-home (OOH) executions from across the U.S., Canada and even some international work. It was impressive to say the least, as well as revealing to preview what industry trends are developing in this space.

The definition of OOH advertising expands every year. From shapes, sizes and unique installations to different ways for people to engage, experience and co-create, our palette in this medium is more exciting than ever. However, at the end of the day, it still comes down to a simple idea that inspires, surprises and motivates.

On a macro level, three themes seemed to be recurring this year: social integration into digital OOH, interaction-based experiences and contextual messaging that plays off the surrounding environment. There were scores of entries that fit into one of these categories. Many brands leveraged this really well, others not so much.

From an executional perspective, bears were used in several entries. Polar bears, grizzly bears, I think even a panda bear or two were featured. It was across industry verticals and became funnier throughout the day. (In retrospect, we could've turned it into a drinking game — every time you see a bear, take a swig.)

From a cause-related perspective, several entries focused on the topic of human trafficking. All of them were very moving and a couple specifically aimed to motivate Americans to take action. Until recently, human trafficking was only seen as an issue in foreign countries, but it's simply not true. It's happening all across the U.S.

As for out-of-box thinking, two things come to mind. First, a few larger brands executed massive, entire-city takeovers, buying billboards, bus shelters, taxi toppers, bus benches and beyond. And they managed to apply some fairly inventive thinking to take advantage of the investment. Second, a selection of smaller brands did a nice job of creating fewer, more unique installations clearly intended to garner earned media. Many were memorable and quite clever.

As for markets that shined, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and Toronto seemed to have the most interesting entries across all categories. As usual, there were national advertisers competing against local businesses. The OOH medium can be a great equalizer in our connected world since a local business can make a huge impact with just one really powerful billboard.

Still, it always comes down to a simple idea, well executed.