Zippo’s stunning pyrotechnic posters reveal hidden scenes when illuminated by a flame

Ogilvy New York explains the creative process of using thermochromic ink as well as the influencer rollout strategy

Published On
May 31, 2023
A Zippo light revealing the image of a bear on a black Zippo poster

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In a move that nicely fuses product and marketing, Zippo has unveiled some flame-activated advertising in the form of posters visible only when illuminated by a lighter.

The posters, designed by Ogilvy New York, appear totally black at first (aside from a message to “Use your Zippo to light this space”). When a flame touches the surface of the posters, it reveals detailed black-and-white illustrations of outdoor scenes such as a forest, a cave and a swamp—places where nature lovers would enjoy exploring, with their Zippos along for the ride.

The point is to remind campers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts that there’s no better, more trusted lighter to take with on any adventure.

Zippo poster that's completely black except for the words "Use your Zippo to light this space" and "See what's out there"

Zippo poster showing a detailed black-and-white illustration of a cave

Zippo poster showing a detailed black-and-white illustration of a forest

Zippo poster showing a detailed black-and-white illustration of a swamp

Jon Wagner, executive creative director at Ogilvy, told Ad Age that the brief was to capture the affinity people have for Zippo’s rugged, all-American design and durability—while going beyond Zippo’s simple utility as a lighter and presenting it as a bold, modern, innovative brand. 

“It was an interesting challenge because the lighter itself is so perfectly made—its basic design hasn’t changed since it was invented 90 years ago. It’s just that good,” he said. “So, bringing in a new technology like thermochromic ink gave us something new to talk about. It allowed us to create an interactive element with the lighter, which we coupled with an unusual request for the posters themselves … to set them on fire. Or at least attempt to—you actually can’t.” 

Zippo's pyrotechnic poster being lit up by a flame

The creative team stumbled on thermochromic ink by accident—Ogilvy art director Haeun Kim happened to see a YouTube video of it in use, which she then showed to Wagner and Menno Kluin, Ogilvy New York’s chief creative officer. Soon they were exploring the possibilities.

“We had to know for ourselves how it worked,” Wagner said, “so we started out with a few questions of our own—like, How long are the images visible before the poster goes back to black? (Answer: About a minute). And how many times can you use it? (Answer: About 2,000.) We asked for some paper samples to test it for ourselves. Needless to say, we loved what it could do.”

Exterior of the Zippo influencer kit

Interior of the Zippo influencer kit

The actual production process required some trial and error. 

“We found that the dark grey thermographic ink did the best job of retaining the original color of the illustrations, but ‘grey’ isn’t exactly a word you’d use to describe what lurks in the dark. From a conceptual and design standpoint, the artwork had to be black. As black as midnight,” Wagner said. “Numerous tests and long drying times resulted in choosing four layers of black ink, that actually ended up giving the illustrated world more of an antique patina, which in turn gave the pieces a little more character that really worked with both the rugged aesthetic of the influencer kits we created and the enclosed brass Zippo lighter.”

The kits—with the posters and lighter packaged in a heavy wooden box—were sent to influencers including @shelbssays, @thruhikers and @laducb. They filmed their unboxings and generates buzz along outdoors and Zippo enthusiasts—the resulting combined reach was some 6 million impressions.

The posters were also prominently featured in the Zippo Museum and Gift Shop in Bradford, Pennsylvania. 

“The importance of the influencer element really begins with the Zippo Museum,” said Wagner. “The museum was the logical place for our larger format posters because they’re interactive pieces of art, and the museum staff is always looking to bring in new installations that add to the rich history and story of Zippo. [Bradford] is a small town, but they get a surprisingly large number of annual visitors because it’s nestled in the beautiful Allegheny National Forest and close to Niagara Falls. Nature lovers, campers and hikers are everywhere.”

Black Zippo posters in the Zippo Museum

Zippo posters in the Zippo Museum with the illustrations revealed

Black Zippo posters in the Zippo gift shop

Zippo posters in the Zippo gift shop with the illustrations revealed

Ogilvy worked with a company called Illusion CGI on the actual poster illustrations.

“Beyond making the magic of thermochromic ink, the placement of the animals within the illustration was key to making the interactive experience work,” said Wagner. “We discovered that you couldn’t have a lot of ‘dead space’ in the scenes where you were just seeing more trees and rocks. To keep the viewer engaged, you really want to see more of all the creatures you might encounter in your outdoor adventures.”

Wagner said the agency is taking a “test-and-learn approach” to measuring the campaign’s success. “Demonstrating innovation first and foremost in its home turf, Zippo set out to change perception from within—targeting fans, followers and employees in its Zippo Museum and Gift Shop,” he said. “The posters will remain hosted at the museum in the coming months as a ‘surprise and delight’ installation for visitors. Our aim is to lean on the shareability of the execution to garner support from influentials in the nature and outdoors conversation and build appreciation for Zippo as a brand dedicated to innovation and discovery.” 


May 31, 2023
Client :
Agency :
Ogilvy-New York
Associate Vice President Global Marketing :
Lucas Johnson
Marketing Manager :
Amanda DePrins
Chief Creative Officer :
Menno Kluin
Executive Creative Director :
Jon Wagner
Head of Design :
Brian Gartside
Associate Design Director :
Peter Hahn
Creative Director :
Martha West
Creative Director :
Will Montgomery
Art Director :
Haeun Kim
Head of Production :
George Sholley
Executive Producer :
Joe Calabrese
Associate Producer :
Isaac Boruchowicz
Executive Group Director :
Emily Maier
Senior Vice President :
Francesca Lee
Senior Strategist Influencer :
Lara Olson
Senior Director Social :
Adam Philips
Print Producer :
Dave Cagner
Director of Print Project Management :
Gina Bacile
Designer/Senior Mechanical Artist :
Alex Ng
Director of Print Operations :
Lisa Garcia
Post Producer :
Marissa Brannick
Editor :
Patrick Shay
DP :
Torrey Johnson
Production Company :
Illustrator :
Retouching :
Printing :
Concur Printing
Fabrication :
Big Secret

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