What Makes a Great Billboard?

Outdoor advertising has played an important role in American business promotion for decades, especially so ever since President Eisenhower’s massive investment in developing the Interstate highway system during the 1950s. Throughout the ensuing years, savvy marketers have conducted extensive research with respect to the effectiveness and efficacy of this unique medium. Below are several basic guidelines to follow if you choose to include billboards as “part-and-parcel” of your overall marketing endeavor.


1. Messaging

The message should focus on a single, succinct idea, presented in a way that immediately captures attention, is easily understood and wholly memorable. Ideally, your message should be limited to seven words or less. Remember, your audience is traveling by car, often at a high rate of speed. You have only a few precious seconds to impart your message, and in such a manner that engenders future recall.


2. Font Selection

You can have the best-ever billboard message ever composed, but, if it cannot be read, all such effort will be for naught. Take care to utilize fonts that are highly legible. Overly ornate type and those fonts that are too thick or too thin should be avoided. Additionally, the lettering must be appropriately scaled. To test basic readability, write your message on the back of a business card and hold it at arm’s length. This roughly simulates how it will be viewed on a 10’ x 22’ billboard from a distance of around 200 feet.


3. Graphics and Images

The graphics and images you employ to support your message should be hyper-compelling. Refrain from including multiple graphics and images on your billboard. Typically, one high-impact image, if well chosen to thoroughly illustrate your message, shall suffice.


4. Design/Layout

Effective billboards make the most of a “clean” and “efficient” design. Take special care to avoid “clutter” and introducing anything that distracts from the message you’re conveying. In billboard design, less is truly more. Graphics/images should work seamlessly with the message imparted. Also, there should be a natural “eye flow” from graphics/images to text, and visa versa.


5. Color Choice

Bold, contrasting color usage grabs readership attention. Select colors that, first and foremost, highlight your message. Overall, the goal is to make use of a color combination that allows for both your message and graphics/images to significantly “pop” against the billboard’s background.


6. Explore “The Beyond”

There are several ways a billboard can be enhanced. For example, you can add an extension to increase impact and differentiation. Likewise, a number of vendors provide for the opportunity to use the “apron” portion of their board. This is the area under the “standard” saleable space. And, there’s the employment of 3-D elements (vis-à-vis, those spotted, Chick-fil-A® cows, remember?). Whatever “outside the board” tactics you desire to implement will be an additional cost, though often privy to negotiation.


In sum, it is vitally important to understand that outdoor advertising is indeed a unique medium, and must be addressed so to attain maximum effectiveness. Outdoor advertising should not function as an “add-on” to your overall promotional campaign, but, rather, individually addressed as a vitally important and integral component to an overall marketing mix.

Written by Dave Dubreuil