IBM’s latest campaign makes your typical billboards into useful, functional urban furnishings.

Their purposes are self-explanatory, using just a bit of basic geometry to make people’s lives in the city a little better.

Of course, a skeptic might see them as highly invasive. But really, what’s more invasive than an advertisement in the first place?

Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.


IBM’s Clever Billboards Double As Benches, Shelter, And Ramps

Because if you’re going to stand next to an ad anyway, it might as well be useful.

Billboard ads are an architectural eyesore. And they’re fundamentally designed to get in your way—to leverage visual noise to distract you while going about your day and having your own thoughts. Worried about filing that report? A bus stop wants to sell you french fries. Dodging other drivers during rush hour? An overhang has a deal on car insurance.

But the campaign by IBM’s People for Smarter Cities Project, by Ogilvy & Mather France, has a better approach to big signs. Namely, they’ve incorporated useful functions into their billboards. One sign is simply curved at the bottom to double as a bench—and flipped upside down, a similar protrusion creates shelter from the rain. Genius.

In the most ambitious piece, a sign actually folds 90 degrees over concrete steps, providing a useful ramp for bikers and anyone else negotiating wheels. I imagine that, placed in the right spot, such an ad can feel like a godsend to a sweaty commuter lugging a 20-pound frame up a flight of stairs. Even still, I think this particular ad goes a bit too far, potentially invading our urban landscape and personal space with too much zeal. Because, imagine if I’d prefer to take the stairs, but they were crowded and this ad-ramp got in my way? I’d despise IBM, stomping on their silly ramp with every begrudging step.

As Google reminds us with their two jars of marbles, however clever a solution may seem on paper, if it’s imperfect in actual use, it’s just part of the problem. It’s just more noise.

[Hat tip: Co.Create]

Add New Comment


  • Bumd

    The Ramp is not ADA compliant, much too steep for actual use and would require handrails.  This would cause a hazard to the general public and a liability nightmare to the advertising agency and IBM.  It would not be allowed to be installed by any city code inspectors.  Note that even the bench concept would not meet ADA as it is a hazard to the visually impaired.  These concepts need some work.

  • Jontramos

    This would be better if it had a guardrail / handrail built in so people don't slip of the edge or lose control of a wheel chair.  Also, the slope is steeper than ADA guidelines, so I would say this billboard needs to be longer in order to reach 1/12 slope for an outdoor ramp.  Hopefully there is a "real" accessible ramp nearby, and this one could serve people with bicycles, luggage, carts etc.

  • Ecosse

    I am amazed at the bare faced privilege of someone who says the following:

    "Because, imagine if I’d prefer to take the stairs, but they were crowded and this ad-ramp got in my way?" 

    Imagine for a minute, if you will, being a wheelchair user like me and being denied access to between 40-60% of restaurants and bars (depending on what city you're in)?

    You might despise the ramp but hey, I despise people like you. Fair dos.

  • Irene Velveteen

    Love seeing advertising connecting physically with their audience. Very effective!

  • Val

    No ad will make everyone happy. The author is simply trying to convey the feelings that might come from finding these in your way.

    I'm from the "use it if you like" camp.