How to Create Better Billboard Ads

As we examined recently, new media companies like Spotify, Airbnb, and Netflix are investing heavily in billboard advertising. The format has proven itself time and time again despite an ever-changing media landscape, leaving advertisers to ask not if they should use them but rather how to create better billboard ads? While the primary objective is to catch the consumer's attention, the best ads reach beyond temporary brand awareness. A great ad gets people talking, leaving a lasting impression that generates word-of-mouth marketing and a tangible impact on your bottom line. It's not easy, but with the right creative team and brand assets in place, your business can use billboard ads to deliver a memorable and compelling message to a broader audience than almost any other channel available today! billboard-advertising-header 

Reach Any Generation

Although prevailing marketing wisdom would suggest that millennials prefer digital channels, while those that came before them lean towards traditional, the real media landscape is much more complex. In reality, search and social media marketing now reach every generation, while younger consumers still pay attention to physical media and out-of-home advertising (OoH). The total OoH ad spend in the U.S. grew by 6.2% in 2016, shrugging off concerns that traditional channels would be overwhelmed by digital. With that kind of growth, it becomes increasingly clear that billboards continue to occupy the attention of consumers of all ages.  Furthermore, the distinction between real-world and online advertising is increasingly blurred by these supposedly separate options adapting to each other's formats. This includes tech companies using interactive billboards, radio stations streaming their broadcasts online, and digital publications creating print magazines. Seen in this light, it's clear that ignoring a channel with the visibility and reach of billboards also means passing up an opportunity to communicate with your target market in a new way. While a digital presence remains important for most businesses, it can limit the ambition and reach of some marketing teams. If online channels consistently overshadow or, worse still, exclude established offline media, it becomes more difficult to execute a broad promotional campaign with multiple points of connection to your end consumer. cars-billboard-advertising(Source: Arbitron)


How to Get More From Billboard Ads

Once you've decided that an out-of-home advertising campaign leveraging billboards is right for your business, it's time to work on the creative. Even with a commitment to invest in OoH channels, you still need to create better billboard ads than competitors to get the most bang for your buck. Some of the considerations you'll need to make to achieve this include:

  • Where your ads should run and how long they need to be up.
  • Will your billboard ads be standalone marketing pieces or extensions of an existing campaign? 
  • The tactics you will use to make your billboard message "pop".
  • Which brand asset will "close the loop" so that those who see your billboard can contact you.


Let's take a look at some of these considerations in more detail.  

Where Will You Run (and Who Will You Reach?)

Billboards were born in an era where reaching mainstream audiences was the primary duty of any advertising agency. Getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible mattered more than accurate targeting or measuring specific outcomes. Although media monitoring has improved greatly across every channel, thanks in no small part to tools like call tracking, out-of-home advertising still places a premium on location and visibility. This makes it an important place to start your planning for a billboard ad campaign. Firstly, you're probably going to want more than one billboard. While this inevitably increases costs, the value of repetition and comparable results across different locations cannot be overstated. It's also important to remember that smaller formats are available in this category, such as taxi cab signs, bench ads, and posters on the sides of buildings or at public transport locations. All of these smaller options provide a way to bolster your brand presence at key locations without breaking the bank. Ask about industry standard metrics like Gross Ratings Points (GRP) and Daily Effective Circulation (DEC) to get a feel for how various options will affect your reach and budget. Factors including positioning, daily traffic, size, and visibility all factor into these metrics, so you'll need to know what each location is worth to your business before you decide how much to pay. Secondly, go a step further than those traditional ad industry folks and think about who'll be seeing your billboard ads. For example, is the route popular with commuters heading to a business district or will it be more visible to parents doing the school run? This is where using target buyer personas can come in handy, as you can build questions about common travel routes into the profiles of your ideal customer, which in turn can inform where you run a billboard campaign. Finally, even when you find the right route, think about whether or not the viewer is close enough to visit your business. Although studies suggest that 32% of people who see a billboard ad will seek out that business within a week, if you're not in their immediate area you might want to direct them online or get them to give you a call instead.  Less Is More & Fun, Not Frustrating

Keep it short and sweet to make it memorable. Five or six seconds is about the most time you'll get to catch your audience's attention, so set the word count around the same amount and keep clutter to a minimum. Furthermore, remember that while tactics like asking a question, setting up a joke, or using a visual that makes us look twice are all effective, they should never be too complicated for this format. A creative and clever billboard can attract attention in many different ways, but it must not be too mind-boggling. Don't attempt to communicate complex ideas or messages that require further explanation here. Your job is to catch the eye, strike a mental chord, and leave the viewer with the desire and means to follow up at a later date.   

Use One Clear (and Memorable!) Brand Asset

Anyone who tells you billboard campaigns are only about awareness is missing one of the most valuable opportunities provided by the medium: leaving the viewer with a clear way to follow up on that initial spark of interest. Sure, they might remember to Google you at a later date or stumble across your storefront if they see your ad often enough, but why take that risk?! A memorable phone number gives people who see your billboards an easy way to turn interest into action.  Although a short website address might also be tempting to use, it's typically much harder for people to remember and they're probably going to Google you anyway. This opens up the possibility for competitor ads to appear next to your search results and adds an extra step to find your contact details, assuming they make it to your site in the first place. Why make it more complicated when a simple, memorable vanity number will connect them directly to your team? They can call there and then if their vehicle has the capability, or easily remember the number to call when it's more convenient.  The key to creating better billboard ads that actually convert is limiting the call-to-action to one brand asset. Rather than plastering all of your social platforms, a website, and all manner of competing brand visuals, stick to a single asset that compels an action.  [search-tag] 

Alignment with Other Campaigns

Last but not least, consider how your billboard messages will relate to other ongoing campaigns, if at all. As we've seen above, billboards use a very specific set of qualities to make them a success. They're highly visible, strategically placed, and offer the biggest canvas you're going to see in terms of creative advertising. They're also limited when it comes to copy and the kind of brand assets you can use. Some of the better billboard ads can be standalone campaigns, but there are almost always links to other channels, such as common taglines or communicating an underlying brand value. These should be subtle in terms of how the customer sees them, yet explicitly stated internally as part of your ad strategy. If you do intend to synchronize your billboards with other channels, play to the strengths of the medium by taking the visual elements and emphasizing them. Communicate the aligned message with a single strong image or short slogan, rather than multiple visuals or elongated copy. Save the exposition for channels that can handle it, like direct mail or content marketing! With a strong economy and the continuing synchronization of ad channels, growth in the out-of-home advertising sector shows no signs of slowing. Understanding your audience and developing better billboard ads will help your business take advantage of this exposure, as well as flexing your company's creative muscles! Get the right brand assets in place, pick your spots, and start to enjoy the increased attention and interest that a memorable billboard brings.  

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