May 8, 2013

Water Producing Billboard Is So Good You Can Taste It


By Karyn Boenker

Mayo DraftFCB, an advertising agency in Lima, Peru, has created a billboard so good you can taste it. Literally. You can walk right up to the base of the billboard, turn a handle and enjoy a fresh serving of purified water collected from the air.

When you think of the people tackling humanity’s greatest challenges you might conjure up the image of a scientist, a humanitarian aid worker, a doctor without borders, or an engineer, among many other crusaders for good. But an ad agency?

“Ad people are used to selling cookies and banks, so using our skills for picturing a better world is a true honor and we put our best to make it work,” Humberto Polar, Chief Creative Officer of Mayo DraftFCB told

Engineering in action

Thanks to Mayo DraftFCB, the world’s first water-producing billboard is actively addressing a major challenge, while also serving the traditional means of promoting a product. In this case, the product is a degree at the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC). When the University approached Mayo DraftFCB, a proven partner, they asked for ‘engineering in action.’

Residents of Lima are grateful for clean, free water in an area that gets almost no rainfall. Photo: UTEC

Residents of Lima are grateful for clean, free water in an area that gets almost no rainfall. Photo: UTEC

In Lima, the surrounding ecosystem is a desert and it is one of the driest capital cities in the world, despite being located at the equator. Even without the rain, humidity is ever present, sometimes reaching 98 percent.

“[The need for] water in our desert city came out immediately, so we researched about how contemporary engineering is addressing that issue and this ad was born,” Polar continued.

Water bottles are also a huge problem. “Nearly 200 million plastic bottles are produced every month in Peru and a good chunk of these are consumed by tourists,” according to Moon Travel Guides. Perhaps now, tourists will be drawn to refill at the infamous billboard.

Design and advertising for good

The size and scale of the project has produced the world’s largest installation of this kind. The inspiration is a machine that turns humidity into water while also purifying it for safe drinking.

“Our task was to build a structure big enough to hold five of these machines, so we could deliver 100 liters of pure water per day to give some scale to the idea. And most important, to put it 10 meters up on top of an actual advertising billboard site, set up a tube and a faucet and make it work exactly as a drinking water source,” Polar reflected.


The billboard Lima’s thick humidity into safe drinking water. Photo: UTEC

It was not an easy task. The creative team behind the magic, Juan Donalisio and Alejandro Aponte, had to do a lot of research and learning throughout the creative and construction processes, much like the experience of students in the engineering field.

Once made into a reality, the billboard was installed by a busy highway during Summer. The seasonal choice was perfect for two reasons; need for water and the deadline for applications.

UTEC is known for its focus on creative engineering that transforms the world in a positive way. On several projects, Mayo DraftFCB has stepped up to the challenge of making this mission a reality, as early in the product life cycle as their public relations.

“UTEC is very happy with the results, but not surprised. As I said before, the way we’ve been doing advertising for them lies on this vision, a sustainable new focus on engineering. It’s just that this ad grew in reputation in a remarkable way,” Polar concluded.

Leading by example

Innovation has driven humanity in a never ending competition with itself and the Earth has given many resources with which to create our species’ inventions. However, not all of Earth’s resources will be endlessly available. Oil and coal are both already on the brink of extinction over the next 100 years, while water and other essential ingredients for life are a problem right now.


UTEC has a reputation for sustainability and engineering for good. Photo: UTEC

On our planet, 345 million people live without access to clean water. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that this need “can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills 2.2 million people every year.”

Additionally, climate change is exacerbating the problem, leading to drought and famine in extreme cases. “By the 2090s, climate change is likely to widen the area affected by drought, double the frequency of extreme droughts and increase their average duration six fold,” WHO estimates.

With the help of collaborative efforts between the world’s experts in communication, design and academia humanity can shift our attention on sustainable impact all the way back to the beginning of the creative process. Advertising has potential to do more than translate a message, it can also be used to exemplify.

In the near future, billboards could become water towers, thermometers, maybe even charging stations powered by small solar. Posters could be made of biodegradable material (hopefully with lessons learned from Sun Chips) or temperature sensitive so that we might all be able to track trends over time.

How else might we use everyday appliances, public goods, and everyday necessities to solve the world’s challenges? How can humanity improve the way we construct and market goods? Every single one of us has a part to play in the future. What will you create?

Photo (featured)UTEC

About the Author

Karyn Boenker
Karyn Boenker, MS, is a freelance journalist and environmental scientist. She writes human interest stories while traveling the world and enjoys communicating scientific topics with a touch of humor.