Grand Visual, which has just sold to outdoor media agency Talon, started at around the time that daubing a 20-year-old Wayne Rooney with the St George's Cross was just a glint in the eye of Wieden & Kennedy and Nike.
Back in 2005, outdoor ads meant static images, but a video producer called Neil Morris was quick to spot the creative potential of a high-tech development – video screens replacing paper panels alongside the escalators at Tottenham Court Road Tube station.
After working on a couple of launch campaigns, Morris incorporated Grand Visual and produced breakthrough work the following year by getting Sylvester Stallone to run up the escalators alongside commuters.
Promoting new movie Rocky Balboa, the creative mimicked the iconic scene of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In these early days, Morris said, "ad agencies would have a TV department, a press department and a digital department, and none of them saw this stuff as their job".
Big brands and agencies started calling, leading to a notable hit for Lynx in 2011 that mixed augmented reality with a digital billboard. Based on the wider Bartle Bogle Hegarty campaign premise that Lynx tempted angels out of heaven, it worked by superimposing footage of an angel falling to Earth on top of a live video feed of members of the public in the station. It earned 1.3 million views on YouTube, 250 pieces of press coverage and two bronze Lions at Cannes.
Augmented reality hit a humble bus shelter in 2014 as part of a Pepsi Max campaign by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO that urged consumers to push themselves "to the max" and accomplish "unbelievable" feats. Onlookers were suprised as the screen’s live feed of the street ahead was taken over by giant robots and flying saucers.
Next came data-driven work that maximised the potential of addressing multiple screens with real-time feeds. Last year, Grand Visual helped Google Maps demonstrate its new features with a campaign showcasing interesting places across different neighbourhoods in New York. The system enabled the campaign messaging to evolve based on the audience (location and time) and the moment (temperature and day).
Also in 2018, AMV used Grand Visual’s production and tech to show the extent of the threat of cybercrime to small businesses. The campaign for UK insurer Hiscox updated posters in real time to show the cumulative number of attacks on a purpose-built honeypot system typical of any standard small business server set-up.
In 2019, Grand Visual’s output is reflecting outdoor's popularity among entertainment behemoths vying to make a splash for their subscription content. Amazon Prime took over Times Square’s screens to publicise apocalyptic comedy series Good Omens by showing Kraken tentacles, UFOs and giant fish raining down on the live crowds below.
The beachhead in the US that such work established was a key factor in Grand Visual being approached by Talon, with Morris in turn looking forward to being able to show the value of its creativity in additional markets.
"The UK has been a fantastic test bed because of huge investment from media owners and the sophistication of brands and consumers," Morris said. "With the growing level of DOOH inventory around the world, it’s an international and global medium for sure now."