How an ad campaign tapped into voyeurism to win

by Nigel Hollis | September 11, 2017

Social media has turned us into a culture of voyeurs. So went the thinking behind Leo Burnett Chicago’s Cannes-winning campaign for the Art Institute of Chicago. And by structuring a coherent campaign around that insight the team helped increase the number of visitors to the Institute by 54 percent.

Sadly, I can relate to the insight that social media has turned us into voyeurs. Every morning when I fire up my laptop I take a few minutes to see what my friends are doing around the world. Even if you do not know people that well it is fun to peek into their life, see what they have been up to and share their triumphs and challenges, even if superficially.


It was into this fascination that Leo Burnett Chicago sought to tap in order to attract more people to visit the Art Institute of Chicago by creating an immersive experience centered on three paintings of  Van Gogh’s bedroom. As the WARC case study states,

“So our strategy was to tell the human story of the paintings, and their relationship with Van Gogh's troubled and turbulent life – and to tell it in such a way that it would connect powerfully with Chicagoans of all kinds on a deep emotional level.”

The central part of the ‘Let Yourself In’ campaign was a physical reconstruction of the artist’s bedroom which was then made available for the public to rent and sleep in, via a partnership with Airbnb. When people responded to posters their texts were replied to in real-time by ‘Van Gogh’. The culmination of the campaign came when the room was listed on Airbnb for people to spend the night in one of the world’s most famous paintings.

The campaign generated huge buzz and international press coverage, resulting in a dramatically increased visitation to the Art Institute during and after the exhibition. As a result, the Van Gogh exhibition generated $6.6M in admission revenue, 36 percent higher than the previous most successful exhibition, and a 10 percent increase in membership.

As we look to the future of marketing it seems clear to me that all brands are going to have to up their game and emulate the engagement created by the ‘Let Yourself In’ campaign. In a culture of search, skip and share there is no substitute for great, well-branded creativity but that does not mean a TV ad. As the case study notes,

“The experiential idea has been the playground of creativity forever.”

And I believe that it will remain so for the future, the only thing that will change is how people engage with and share that idea.

So what do you think of the ‘Let Yourself In’ campaign? Great one-off idea or recipe for how brands will need to engage their audiences in future? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Lyndell, September 13, 2017
    Experential Marketing, when done well and in line with your brands purpose,  is a great way to build more meaningfulness behind your brand. 
  2. alan, September 12, 2017
    An amazing approach to take. I wonder how much initially was led by insight and how much research? An inspired and brave decision that paid off. Brilliant. 
  3. STEFANIE KLINGE , September 11, 2017
    Brilliant way to engage audiences and awake cultural interests, using social media for good.

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