Cannes Lions

Letter theft



1 Shortlisted Cannes Lions
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With a decades-long run of daring TV advertising, HORNBACH has established itself as the DIY and gardening megastore that enables customers to be their most inventive selves. However, most customers belong to an older cohort. Younger consumers, seemingly disinterested in DIY and traditional media, don’t see the brand as the icon of creative rebelliousness, yet. Time to engage with them and change their view.


It was one of the great mysteries of 2022: Overnight, letters began to disappear from the signboards of HORNBACH markets all over Europe. One by one letters reappeared in the most unexpected places – German Twitch streams, Czech poetry slams, even Swedish music videos. And fueled an impassioned debate all over the web: Was HORNBACH behind it? Or something even bigger? A documentary short eventually revealed the culprits: a gang of creative renegades, claiming the letters as symbols of creativity. Proven by a campaign that wasn’t just broadcast but shaped together with fans.


Younger target groups have proven to be highly resistant to advertising and branded content – generally, they can sniff an ad or sponsorship from miles away. For the campaign to gain traction and drive engagement, it was key to make it as difficult as possible to tell whether it’s real or not. To achieve that, we made it our strategy to break all the rules of advertising: never talking about products or benefits. Promoting almost none of our content: The theft of the letters was initially only announced with local flyers and radio spots. Unseeded footage from the thefts were anonymously posted on YouTube, eBay confidentials for stolen letters appeared without mention. Letters in the background of Twitch streamers were never commented upon. The strategy worked: The lack of any advertising signifiers kept people on their toes and made even skeptics question their doubts.


Letters began to disappear from the signboards of real stores in more than 30 markets all over Europe on 08/28/2022. A hunt for the missing letters began the following day: with “Missing” posters and local radio spots, kicking off a large online discussion. Life-size replicas of the letters were built and distributed in odd channels over the following month. Appearing unannounced in public parks or flea markets in Germany, on the backs of trailers in Amsterdam, in the subways of Prague, in the background of Swiss TikTok Stunts, in Twitch streams and subway stations. Seeding clues for the chase all over Europe. Culminating in the reveal of the campaign film on 09/23/2022.


The campaign created a whole new community for HORNBACH: Online, people swapped theories, created memes, and hunted for clues. On TikTok, user-generated videos on the subject racked up more than 11 million views alone – combined with owned content, the campaign reached more than 28 million views on Social Media Platforms. Twitch streams featuring the letters in the background were viewed for more than 860000 minutes, more than 100 international news outlets picked up the story. Overall, the campaign garnered more than 600 million impressions across all channels, while visits to alone went up by 500%. The campaign left such a cultural mark in Germany that three of the letters became permanent exhibits at the German Letter Museum of Berlin.

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