The Art of the Billboard

Billboards are great venues for advertising your small business.  Billboards come with built in frequency, one of the three pillars of successful advertising.  People tend to drive the same routes over and over, whether they’re going to work or to the grocery store.  A well-placed billboard will be seen multiple times by a person driving that particular route.  That’s what we call frequency, and it is one of the reasons people usually recall billboard advertising better than other forms of print advertising.

Billboard artwork can be a little tricky to pull off successfully.  You see, in order for any advertisement to be effective, it must be noticed and understood, and this is where many billboards fail.

A billboard is typically seen while driving a car.  You are literally flying past the advertisement at 70 mph, or whatever the speed limit is where a particular billboard is located.  The billboard industry likes to say a person has 8 seconds to read a billboard, but I think it is more like 5 seconds, and even that is under ideal circumstances.  In order for a billboard to be effective, it must be seen and understood in 5 seconds or less!

There are lots of ways to effectively communicate with a billboard in 5 seconds, but there are many more ways to sink that effort.  The three most common ways to make an ineffective billboard are small type, too much information, and low-contrast color schemes.

You’d think that it would be a no-brainer that you need to make the words on a billboard big enough to be seen at a distance, but I commonly see national brands putting up billboards that are difficult to read while driving past them in a car.

Small businesses are usually guilty of the trying to cram too much information onto the billboard.  A lot of times this is some sort of contact information but not always.  When was the last time you wrote down a telephone number you saw on a billboard?  There may be a few who have done it once or twice, but most people have never done it.  Not even once.  And in 5 seconds, you’re certainly not going to memorize that phone number as you drive by in your car.

Any advertisement should only have one message. If the purpose of your billboard is to remind people where you are at, then only put your location and leave out your phone number altogether.  And when you put your location, don’t put your address.  Put something readily identifiable, like the closest street intersection.  Which is a better locator:  “2378 Elm”, or “Near Elm and Polk St.”?

Low-contrast color schemes are the other big billboard killer.  What works for a newspaper or magazine ad, or even a business card, may not work for a billboard.

Billboards are seen at a distance.  It’s not unusual for a billboard to be elevated up 20 feet or more, so even if you are standing right next to the billboard structure, you will still be 20 feet or more away from the ad copy.  The road usually will be even further away.  If the text, pictures and background are not clearly distinguishable from each other, then you won’t be able to read the billboard at a distance, and it will certainly not be understandable in 5 seconds or less.

So if your going to advertise on a billboard, make sure the print is large enough to be read at a distance, there’s not too much information and clutter, and it has a high-contrast color design.  Then you’ll have a good start on having an effective billboard.


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