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Billboards 101

For people in urban areas, billboards are as ubiquitous as traffic lights and parking meters. Despite the sharp decline of printed media, outdoor advertising remains an important part of many campaigns. This is because a properly designed billboard can leave a lasting impression on an incredible number of people. 

Billboards (also called outdoor or OOH –Out Of Home advertising) are very effective in cities. Billboards situated on highly trafficked Regina streets can expect over 50,000 views per day, while the flashy advertisements of Times Square in New York can get up to 360,000 impressions per day. When people view the same ad on their way to work every morning, the creative works its magic and the advertisement is remembered. 

Billboards increase recall of your other advertising.

Did you know that if your brain sees/hears advertising elsewhere and then sees a billboard echoing that creative, your brain tries to recall that other impression? This is also how outdoor is powerful – it amplifies your other advertising as long as it’s similar in message and branding.

What makes a billboard successful?

Get to the point.
  • If the message isn’t absorbed in 2-5 seconds, the message is lost.
  • People glance at billboards as they’re walking or driving, while they’re listening to the radio or worried about running late for work.
  • No matter how beautiful and intriguing the billboard, people can’t stop the flow of traffic to take in your message.
Copy is king.
  • The golden rule: 7 words or less (your message needs to be absorbed in 2-5 seconds, remember?)
  • Edit, edit, edit. What are you really trying to say? Can it be shorter?
  • This can be a daunting copy process – every word is important.
  • And did we mention humour? Put a smile on their face, and that person just took one step closer to you and your brand.
Legible graphics.
  • People won’t absorb your message if they can’t read it.
  • Make the text big and easy to read, with a high contrast.
  • Use bold colours and avoid white as a background – it doesn’t always stand out against the sky or the cityscape.
One call to action.
  • In 2-5 seconds, people can only absorb ONE idea.
  • This isn’t the place to explain a complicated process or list a phone number.
  • Long, complicated information won’t be retained.
  • TIP: Test your advertising by having it up on your computer and standing 50 feet back or minimizing it as small as it will go. What information disappears when you do that?
Visual storytelling.
  • We’re hardwired to remember stories, not specifics. It’s the advertiser’s job to use this to their advantage.
  • Think about your viewer coming away with an impression such as, “This new restaurant looks great” or, “I should get a pool” instead of, “I should call 1-800-555-6871 to learn more about this new product.”
Location, location, location
  • Where are people going to be reading your ad?
  • Work with an agency, media buyer or outdoor company on locations that reach your audience and use messaging that fits.
  • Highways: “Tim Hortons 10 minutes ahead”
  • Major commuter roads: “You could be driving home to a clean house right now.”

In Summary…

Despite the ever-changing landscape of advertising, good old-fashioned billboards remain a great option for businesses in several industries. Choose a good location, use big text, few words, and bold colours to tell your story, and your billboard will be one of the most important pieces of your advertising campaign.