With so much advertising happening online now, brands are cutting back on some more traditional promotional channels. In fact, according to a study done by the research firm eMarketer, 2019 is expected to be the year that digital ad spending overtakes traditional ad spending.
However, going digital-only can be a dicey decision, as choosing to promote online only can miss important audiences that may be reached better through other channels. Smallbizgenius says that the average Google user is served over 1,700 digital banner ads per month, but these banner ads are mostly one-off promotions and have no affiliation to a physical campaign in the real world. While certain products, services and brands truly thrive in a digital only environment, many more businesses need to expand to reach customers through other avenues lest their message get lost in the thousands of different ads seen each month.
One of the most effective offline marketing options still today are billboards. These fixtures of the roadside landscape have long been a go-to choice for advertisers because of the high visibility and reach they offer in the community. Plus, highways and byways are going nowhere soon, meaning billboards continue to provide marketers with ample opportunity to be seen in a physical space still today.
What’s Your Goal?
The first step to designing an effective billboard is deciding what matters to you. Are you looking to promote the opening of a new location? Are you having a limited-time sale? Or maybe you’re just trying to build your brand awareness over time? One commonality between all of these different potential end goals is that both the approach and the metric by which you measure will be unique to each.
For example, a business looking to open a new location may target traffic in the neighborhoods surrounding where the branch is opening to draw awareness to a new storefront. Existing brands can build upon their own reputation and brand infrastructure that already exists in the area and use a billboard campaign to drum up buzz surrounding the new location.
On the other hand, a store holding a short-term sale will need something quick, promotional and highly visible so that as many people see it as possible. Whereas a brand looking to expand awareness will take a more long-term approach involving developing storylines, multiple locations and an emphasis on longevity, sales promotions are quick and time-sensitive, meaning the billboard needs to pop and draw the reader’s eye while sticking in their mind.
In both cases, a billboard can offer a great impact for users – but the focus of the campaign in question will ultimately determine what is the best approach.
Rule of Sixes
Six words, six seconds. Although it works on a stylistic level, these are the generally recommended rules to apply for functional practicality when planning a billboard message. While it’s tempting to keep adding more and more information, a billboard has a very particular role. Most readers will be passing by in their cars, giving them only a few seconds – about six at most – to read and understand your message. With this type of limited engagement timeframe, you need to be efficient if you want to be remembered.
That’s also why the traditional rule of thumb is to shoot for six words or less. Trying to hold drivers’ attention for any longer is not just unwise, but potentially unsafe – and you don’t want to be remembered as the billboard that caused dozens of fender benders (unless, of course, you’re a collision repair shop). Using more words can make your message more complex and less memorable, meaning drivers will zip on by and not remember what you had to say in the first place.
Make Sure You Can Read It
In addition to being memorable and brief, size matters with your billboard – the size of your actual words. Mainly this relates to your chosen font size and how the finished board will actually look when put up. Fonts that are larger will have an impact for a longer amount of time because they will be legible from further away. The tradeoff is that if you use more space on words, you have less space for visuals. At the end of the day, you need to strike the right balance that tells your story the way you want through both text and images.
Let’s say, for example, you are creating a billboard for placement along a busy highway and are considering what messaging to include. Would it be more effective to include all the information possible about your business listed in 12-inch font, or just a few words to summarize what you’re all about in 48-inch font? The answer will always be to sum it up in larger font.
On the same topic of readability, it’s important to also consider the font style. A lot of businesses fall into the trap of using a font that is too fancy. Don’t get twisted – aesthetically pleasing fonts are great for design, but if your text is so flowery or showy that it makes it difficult to read, that’s a problem.
While visuals are important, legibility is the key to successful billboard advertising. If nobody can figure out what your copy says, your billboard won’t have the impact you intended.
Keep Things Consistent
Another thing to keep in mind is that your billboards should connect to your overall marketing strategy. Billboards work great as supplementary reminders and reinforcement tools to support your overall campaign. While these physical ads offer different opportunities in terms of audience reach, using them to support a broader campaign on other media – digital, print, television or radio – helps paint a unified and collaborative story that audiences can recognize on any channel.
Bold ideas are great, but you want it to relate to the rest of the brand aesthetic you’ve been curating through your other marketing efforts. Of course, if you’re looking to completely overhaul your brand’s identity, something totally new and inconsistent from the past is exactly what you want – but that means all of your new messaging should take on that similar tone.
You want to establish consistency in your brand voice, messaging and color scheme so that everybody who views an ad from you – no matter what platform – knows that it’s for your brand. If you have digital banners with a blue and yellow palette but your outdoor ads are purple and green, this could end up confusing your potential customer base. Find your core concept, colors and tone and really commit.
Have Fun With It
One of the great parts about billboards and physical advertising in general is the amount of creative freedom you get within the medium. Sure, you can create an amazing campaign that is just a 2D printout that gets plastered to the vacant board, but it doesn’t have to be that. Depending on your market, your location and your budget, you can often create even more impressive billboard designs that may include extending the messaging off the board or even using 3D elements. You can even use the pole itself to take the message further in some instances. Check out some of the creative designs – including one that you may have even seen just north of the border from our office – in this round up from bMedia.
Location, Location, Location
When advertising via billboard, no two spaces are the same. A lot of placement factors that can impact on the overall effectiveness of your campaign are obvious, including traffic count or line-of-sight obstructions. However, there are some other factors that could greatly alter the success of your ad that you may not think of right away.
One such aspect is the backdrop location. Backdrop location should be considered throughout all aspects of the design process, as it could have an effect on all of them. This is true of not only gag elements such as 3D, hanging or moving pieces, but also color scheme. You want all of the components on your board contrasting with the surrounding area so that your messaging stands out and gets noticed. Knowing where you intend to place your billboard and keeping in mind any limitations for your design or local fixtures or structures that may surround your design can help you create a comprehensive design and message that will pop.
Speaking of placement, it should go without saying that the actual physical location of your board is also important. While it is less likely that you will be able to pinpoint a specific demographic with a billboard than you would with a print ad due to its highly public, highly visible nature, you could utilize your knowledge of local areas and establishments to your advantage.
For instance, a billboard located in a neighborhood densely populated with trendy, tech-friendly coffee shops and yoga studios is probably an ideal location for a business looking to target millennials. Optimizing for demography in billboard is much more of a challenge because of the geographical elements that need to be compensated for, but it becomes manageable when you really know your local area.
Quantity AND Quality
With billboard advertising – as with most other forms of marketing – it is also important to spread your resources. Even if your billboard is declared a national treasure, it still won’t grow legs and reach readers outside of its line of sight. While the stoicism and continuity of a billboard is great for brand recall for those in the immediate area or who commute by your board every day, it doesn’t have any reach beyond the surrounding area.
The most successful billboard campaigns all include boards in multiple areas or offer reinforcement through other media channels. This means that your campaign can not only expand your reach into new localities, but they also increase the likelihood of repeat exposure. People travelling from one area to another may see multiple roadside ads or hear a corresponding radio ad or see a television spot when they get home for the day, giving your message a greater chance to stick in the audience’s memory. The more exposure you can give to your campaign, the more likely it is that you will be remembered.
How We Can Help
If you’re a bit stressed out thinking about trying to balance these priorities, fret not. At JFG, we tackle this kind of work every day. We have the knowledge and skills to help you refine your message, find your voice, design and place a billboard that will get you noticed.
We take the time to figure out what makes your business special and express that in a way that meets each client’s different needs and distinctive goals. If you need help making your brand stand out, call us today at 716.433.7688 – and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn to learn more.
Bringing with him more than a decade of experience in traditional and online news media, digital marketing and content production experience, Ryan Yaeger is the copywriter and digital content strategist at J. Fitzgerald Group. When not busy wordsmithing at his proverbial word anvil or working on client SEO, you can find him testing new board games or cheering for the Bills or Sabres.