Effective Outdoor Advertising vs. “What the heck is that billboard?”

By: Creative Director Holly Caskey

Everyone has something that they secretly (or sometimes not so secretly) judge, like grammar, spelling or even font choices. I, on the other hand, have always been the outdoor-board police

It’s true. I have found myself yelling “You can only have so many hits on an outdoor board!” from behind the wheel when confronted by a poorly designed billboard. (Don’t worry. I’ll explain what a “hit” is in just a minute.)

To me, outdoor design is really very simple. As in, keep it simple. What is the one big thing you want your audience to know? Who’s saying it, and what do you want them to do?

Easy enough, right? Let’s break that down.

  • What do you want your audience to know? That’s your headline. (Keep it short and sweet.)
  • Who’s saying it? That’s your logo.
  • What do you want them to do? This can be a website, phone number or a location. (Although, I do need to ask: Can we please refrain from using phone numbers? No one remembers them unless it’s something like 888-COOL.)

Now, here are some other important things to consider:

You Get 8 To 10 “Hits” Before You Lose Your Audience.

What’s a “hit,” you ask? A hit is basically each piece of information a person can take in while driving by an outdoor board. For example: I know that the logo and a web address are one hit each, so you really only have six “hits” left to use. That’s why I say to keep the headline short and sweet.

Copy Is King. Be Creative And Clever.

Ultimately, you have to grab your audience’s attention with wordplay. Am I the only one who loves a good pun? Unless you’re selling medical equipment (“Our Spine Clinic: We Have Your Back!”), clever copy is a great way to resonate with your audience.

Design And Contrast.

As a designer first, of course I believe that anything well-designed will sell above all. Believe it or not, if you follow the “less is more” rule in the world of outdoor, there are times that design can be secondary. Before all the designers are outraged, let me explain.

Contrast is paramount when it comes to outdoor. That yellow type on a white background doesn’t exactly read well. Those patterns or ghosted logos that make design “more interesting” don’t work as well for outdoor as they would for a print piece. Trust me. I’ve seen it all.

A great trick is to print out your outdoor design in black and white. See how it looks from a distance. Does it have enough contrast? If not, increase the contrast of your colors.

Also, try to keep messages compartmentalized. If you have a headline and a subheadline and you need a web address and phone number, try them in a bar across the bottom of the board or under the subheadline with a divider line. It gives the illusion of less clutter and less copy. It’s much easier to read than having all the copy float in the same space.

Does your client want an image? If so, use that image with intention. Can it be clipped out or placed in a frame? Is there a way that the copy can flow over the image with it still being legible? Use the image in a way that gives it purpose. A few years ago, we designed an extension billboard that featured crab legs that ran over the top. It looked like the “attack of the crabs,” instantly grabbing the attention of the interstate traffic. Just be sure your outdoor company has the capability to provide this service before you start designing.

Last But Not Least, Your Outdoor Vendor Should Be Your Partner.

We have been lucky to work with great outdoor companies that take the time to research all available billboards for placement. Here are some of the basics you should know before securing your board:

  • Is it a left or right read? This means it is either on the left or the right side of the road. I like to lead with the logo, so knowing which side of the road the billboard is located will impact my design.
  • Is it lit at night? If your board is not illuminated at night and it’s in a dark area, this will affect your viewership. Your outdoor company is usually very open about this, but always ask.
  • They should provide images of the billboard from the observer’s point of view. Some reads can be extremely far away, and should be treated accordingly (less copy).
  • How long is the hold? How many other brands are in rotation with your ad? Can you post multiple messages,and have them rotate or run during specific dayparts?
  • Extensions. Does your outdoor company offer extensions? After all, you may want to create your very own “crab wars” design.

Outdoor designed effectively is an excellent way to enhance your brand. The key to creating a successful billboard really isn’t difficult if you put yourself in the audience’s shoes, or vehicle I should say. Imagine seeing the billboard from their perspective. If you can do that, you have a much better chance of creating outdoor that creates results for your clients.

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