The Future of OOH: What ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Gets Right and Wrong

Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, the original Blade Runner film was released in 1982. This existential neo-noir film was set in dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2019. It would be remembered as genre-defining science fiction, particularly for its striking visuals. The most iconic imagery from the film comes from the out of home (OOH) advertising-filled cityscape of future LA. While we never got the flying cars or video phones the film predicted we would, we did get a lot of the neon signs and video billboards.

Thirty-five years later we have its sequel, Blade Runner 2049. In the film universe, thirty years have passed since the original. The filmmakers were tasked with imagining an updated future LA, OOH advertisements and all. Let’s take a look at what we think the film got right — and wrong about the future of OOH ads.


Many of the ads in Blade Runner 2049 are holographic. Giant ballerinas walk down the street. Moving neon billboards bend over to speak with consumers. We already have something similar right now in OOH with interactive media walls and augmented reality (AR). What are holograms if not fully immersive AR without the need for a camera lens or screen? Holograms could very likely be the evolution of AR and the future top OOH format.


One glaring omission in the film was the integration of mobile into OOH campaigns. The effectiveness of mobile working together with OOH has been proven time and time again. The industry has identified integration with mobile as the key to improved targeting, delivery, and attribution. The lack of any mobile advertising in the film was surprising. If it were real LA in 2049, all of those billboards would have been triggering mobile ads. Just putting it out there… we would be happy to consult on the sequels!


While they paid homage to the sweeping digital Coke and Atari ads from the first film, it’s worth noting they also featured taxi tops, albeit with a much more futuristic design. It’s not all moving billboards and holograms in the future. Printed OOH formats still exist alongside the newer ones. This seems accurate. Today, digital and printed OOH continue to work together effectively. 


In the film, billboards can gauge emotion and interact accordingly. One of the Joi advertisements notices K’s existential crisis and tells him he looks lonely. It then tries to comfort him as a means to sell him a product. You can extrapolate the personalization to products inside the home. We see Joi do real-time AB testing to K. She changes outfits until he is happy. We already have billboards that can display specific messages based on time of day, weather, or type of car driven. Facial recognition technology and mobile phone data are making it possible to distinguish someone’s gender, mood, and more. These kinds of hyper-targeted appeals will not only be possible in the future, they are increasingly available to present-day advertisers. 


The ads in future LA are huge! Whole sides of buildings are covered in video screens and other digital OOH. Holographic ads tower over buildings and people. The ads are also brighter than before, lighting up the entire city. It’s impossible to miss them. Will ads in the future be bigger and brighter? Bigger, brighter ads are definitely more impactful.  We’ve already seen sizes and brightness in formats grow as new technology becomes cheaper and more accessible. Once it’s cheap and easy to put a 50-foot illuminated ballerina ad in the street, why wouldn’t we? 

Aside from neglecting the integration of mobile, Blade Runner 2049’s predictions about the future of OOH seem entirely plausible. No one could argue against ads of the future being bigger, more personalized, and utilizing new display technology. The filmmakers did a great job predicting how and why OOH will remain relevant well into the future. OOH is here to stay. Unlike some of the other advertising formats, which will be lost in time — like tears in rain.