BFI Imax: Ocean Outdoor’s ‘marquee asset’ comes of age

BFI Imax: Ocean Outdoor’s ‘marquee asset’ comes of age

The BFI Imax celebrated its 25th anniversary this week.

As well as being a cinema, it is also Europe’s largest OOH canvas. The 1,734m² banner delivers 3.2m impacts a week, according to Route.

Bryan Avery, the architect behind the building, initially designed the structure for annual public art commissions, until Ocean Outdoor was engaged as its advertising sales agent 18 years ago.

In this time, brands including Apple, HSBC, Hugo Boss, LMVH, Mercedes-Benz, Netflix, Tiffany & Co and Universal Pictures have all run campaigns on the site, with the ad revenue going back to the BFI, which is a cultural charity.

“The BFI Imax has a significant place in Ocean’s history as our original ‘ask for it by name’ location,” Ocean Outdoor UK CEO Phil Hall said.

“Eighteen years on, it remains one of the single biggest-ticket items in the OOH world, with occupancy rates achieved by no other asset. We continue to build on this success, securing the reputation of the BFI Imax as a marquee asset.”

Major milestones

May 1999: Construction is completed and the Imax transforms the South Bank intersection south of Waterloo Bridge.

BFI IMAX 1999 Build
Imax under construction in 1999


June 1999: Prince Charles cuts the ribbon for its royal opening.

April 2006: Ocean is engaged as sales agent and remains its sole operator.

June 2006: Nike becomes the first advertiser to use the Imax banner with a month-long football-related activation. It was seen by an estimated 184,000 drivers crossing the bridge each day.

August 2006: Shell follows in quick succession with a two-month takeover of the site.

At the time, Grant Branfoot, sales director of Ocean, said: “With Nike and now Shell snapping up this landmark site, the Imax is building a big reputation with major advertisers looking for outstanding branding and awareness.”

Shell campaign


2007: The Guardian names the Imax the most-wanted billboard.

According to the article, it was the most requested site by name for outdoor specialist agency Posterscope and “presented a huge logistical challenge” for Ocean, which had to find suitable materials to print the advertising that could withstand the heat of backlighting, which could also hang in the cylindrical space.

The Guardian added: “It has now cracked the formula and signed a long-term contract to sell the space, which has been booked up by advertisers including H&M, Deloitte and Touché, and films such as Superman and Happy Feet.”

2010: Ocean relaunches the banner as its first “ask for it by name” location. These are locations “at the top of the global DOOH market” with premium audience and integrated technology.

2012: Nike takes over the Imax with a bespoke installation containing London Olympics content to demonstrate the site’s customised LEDs.

2013: Ocean experiments with coloured ambient lighting, turning the Imax blue for Samsung using coloured gel filters, while the LED mesh features video for the first time.

Samsung IMAX activation. Credit Ocean Outdoor. Resized
Samsung campaign


2015: Following the Imax development, Ocean launches Edison Live, a European network of programmable LEDs.

Edison IMAX Lighting
Volkswagen campaign


Using these ambient LEDs, Ocean has since created hundreds of bespoke lighting sequences tailored to each brand, including stage spotlighting for EE, Dell, Costa Coffee and headlighting for the AA.

IMAX 25 years 2
AA campaign


2022: Ocean retains its sales agent role for another five years, with a lifetime value of £25m.

There is the option to extend by a further five years at the discretion of the BFI.

At the time, Ocean Labs and Ocean Studio said they planned to roll out a “new suite of creative initiatives” that included 3D visuals, animated holographics, projection mapping and mobile augmented reality.

The company also intended to enable advertisers to make use of the “virtual” skyline above the physical cinema with “richer and more immersive content”.

Adidas IMAX. Credit OCean Outdoor
Adidas campaign


March 2024: The Imax’s LEDs are upgraded to meet sustainability goals.

This coincides with investment into an energy-saving operating system, which reduces energy usage by 30% and removes maintenance costs.

Beats IMAX. Credit Ocean Outdoor
Beats campaign
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