A billboard ad for BBC’s Dracula, impaled with stakes, slowly reveals its hidden image and turns creepier as the Sun sets. A BBC creative, the bloody clever Dracula, is the gothic masterpiece from Bram Stoker, which is the century-old gift that keeps on giving – not only to fans and content producers, but also to marketers looking for a juicy project to sink their teeth into.
By creating a billboard with stakes casting Dracula’s face in shadow, Ad mavens in the UK had the sole aim to capture the essence of vampiric DNA by blending it with modern outdoor ad tech, which eventually drew viewers to BBC One’s new version of the classic blood-sucker tale that was scheduled to be aired on TV in the beginning of the year 2020. The miniseries with just three episodes, however, didn’t quite manage to draw the premiere crowd that its successors did.
The unique point of this BBC Creative’s billboard was that it appeared to be just speckled with wooden stakes during the day, but as the Sun starts going down and darkness pronounces the beginning of its ruling, those weapons initiate casting shadows across the canvas, ultimately revealing the silhouette of the show’s star. The undead monster, after all, only operates under cover of darkness.
The highpoint of this advertisement is that viewers were split over how the display works, with some claiming that the way shadow appears is not simply possible to control with that much precision when casting light across a flat surface. And that the finer details like the teeth are 2D protrusions from the stakes, intended not to be noticeable when viewing the billboard head on.
According to Olly Harnett, creative head of BBC Creative, this outdoor campaign placed at busy intersections in London and Birmingham was one of the most ambitious special builds ever undertaken by the agency. It also included a glass box at street level that contains a single sharpened stake with the directive, ‘Break in case of vampires’.
Dracula, from Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (beloved for their work on Doctor Who and Sherlock), stars Claes Bang as the magnetic villain from Transylvania. The Guardian calls the show ‘an homage to all the great Counts who have gone before, but still entirely its own thing.’
Ads had aimed to convey the program’s “dark humor and rock star swagger,” noted by Chris Hooper, BBC One’s head of marketing. This approach can be seen in the use of ‘Bloody Legend’ as a tagline and Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ as the trailer’s soundtrack.
This wasn’t the first clever use of vampire-centric dayparting seen in recent years. To promote the Fox series ‘The Passage’ in 2019, agency BETC/Havas São Paulo had created posters that burst into flames at sunrise. The self-immolating ads on the streets of São Paulo used flammable paint, made from potassium permanganate and sulfuric acid, to turn its vampire character portraits to ash when exposed to sunlight.
BBC Creative has also brought outdoor innovation to bear for other recent projects. The in-house agency created a His Dark Materials billboard in November last year that featured a warrior polar bear that seemed to breathe steam into the night air.