Digital Print Blog

Making Sure Your Billboard Doesn't Suck

Making Sure Your Billboard Design Doesn’t Suck

See that title . . . on this white paper? It would barely qualify for good copy on a billboard. Why? Because it has seven words or less. Actually, that’s giving me a lot of credit. I should say it meets the first “bare minimum” requirement for good billboard copy. Other than that, it’s pretty weak. 
But why? Well, among other things I have not really accomplished much other than hopefully getting you to continue reading this paper. That’s not a very useful headline for a driver in rush hour traffic who has not even finished his first cup of joe yet.

Here at ABI, we have printed A LOT of billboards. We like to think we have become a pretty good judge of what billboards are going to be effective and which ones, well. . . .suck. The list below is not comprehensive, but it ought to be a good starting place to make sure your billboard does not get laughed at.

Be Pithy: OK, that’s a little nod to Bill O’Reilly, but it holds true in outdoor advertising more than any other medium. Your audience is involved in at least one other thing when they see your billboard: driving. They are also potentially on the phone, listening to the radio, wondering what they will make for dinner, thinking about how great it would be if the Texans made the playoffs, and God knows what else. Hence the “Golden Rule” of keeping copy to seven words or less (I’ve also heard FIVE words or less. . . so don’t even think of going over seven). Look, in the world of Google, there is no need to put EVERY piece of information about your company on the billboard. You phone number, your website, your address, your message, a photo, a call to action. . . this is getting pretty crowded don’t you think? The message is more important than the amount of information.

Focus on One Message: So, it’s really great that you sell long distance service, AND used cars, AND pure bred Shar Pei’s . . .but surely one of these is really your core business? Even if by some miracle there is a buyer out there who hates their current long distance service and is driving a Dodge Dart in need of repair with their trustee Shar Pei in the passenger seat, the chances of them being able to read and comprehend all three of those messages in one billboard at 60 miles per hour is slim (not to mention you would have to be a genius to figure out how to get all three of those ideas into seven words or less!). Stay on target. Pick your most important message and stick with it. Besides, production of the billboard is the least expensive part of the whole process. If you simply can’t decide which one message to use, design two billboards and run one the first half of your lease and another the second half. Keep track of your sales results and you will know which message worked better!

Know The “Why” for Your Billboard! Are you simply reinforcing your brand, like Coca Cola? Are you letting drivers know to exit now? (a GREAT billboard simply had a Starbucks cup and said “Gentlemen, start your blinkers”. Clever, simple, understandable, actionable) Are you simply trying to look more professional? DON’T discount that as a reason! Think about the last time you picked a moving company. I’m betting you flipped through the yellow pages and picked someone you had heard of before through some form of advertising because you figured they must be more legitimate, insured etc. cetera. Legitimacy is a great reason to advertise.

Don’t Tell a Story! Would this white paper make a good billboard? Of course not. Don’t try to put a white paper on your billboard! Here’s where I talk you out of even getting a billboard. If your message is such that it can’t be told easily with a picture, or a couple of words, then maybe you need a radio spot or a magazine ad, something that will let you tell a story. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Outdoor advertising is great, but it’s not for everyone.

Know The Reason for EVERYTHING on Your Billboard. Honestly, this is almost just a summary of everything we have talked about already. Before you decide you just HAVE to have a picture of yourself on the billboard, know why you are putting it there! That picture will take up a lot of space, are you advertising yourself or your service? (it’s OK to answer “MYSELF” here! Sometimes you ARE marketing yourself, such as a Real Estate Agent) Do you need your phone number on the board? Are you expecting calls from the road? How about the website?

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, it’s just a guide of some important things to think about when you are designing your billboard. Advertising can be incredibly effective of done right, but here at ABI Digital Solutions we have often scratched our head and wondered why an advertiser even bothered. Follow these rules and you will be off to a great start! (and of course remember. . . rules are made to be broken!)


Green Solutions for the Print Industry

Each week our company gets enquiries about what products we offer in order to be more environmentally friendly. The problem is, there are a lot of products out there, and different definitions about what constitutes a “green” product. To make matters even worse, manufactures claims are poorly regulated, throwing an added level of doubt and confusion into the mix.

Let me be up front and tell you, as an owner of a graphics company I approached these eco-friendly products with an enormous amount of skepticism. First off, supposedly “green” products were enormously more expensive than their standard counterparts. Secondly, I had real concerns about whether or not these products were actually accomplishing anything to save the environment. How could I justify selling products to clients that I did not believe in AND charge 3-4 times more money for them at the same time?


My concerns came from the idea of “bio-degradability”. Where does most trash end up? In a landfill. Landfills are like enormous “mummifiers”. The joke is that you could throw something into a landfill, come back in a 1,000 years and it would be perfectly preserved. The reason for this is that in order for objects, even those that are bio-degradable, to break down they need nitrogen, oxygen and other chemicals in order to facilitate that process. Without getting too technical, just think about the old family compost. It only worked if you turned it regularly right? A landfill is simply a giant compost. Don’t turn it, and it won’t break down. Currently, 99% of U.S. landfills are standard “non-turning” landfills.

The proponents of bio-degradability claim that trash which degrades inside the landfill is beneficial to the environment. Many manufacturers have brought to market expensive banner materials that have special microbes capable of ingesting the PVC resins leaving behind a bio-degradable non-toxic sodium powder. Now I’m willing to concede that a bio-degradable product could be more beneficial to the environment than regular vinyl banner products, but only in the sense that sleeping on the job gets more work done than not showing up to work at all.

The problem here is that, you are basically throwing a beautiful bio-degradable mess in with the rest of the trash that is in the landfill. Currently the percentage of trash being thrown away that is bio-degradable is a small amount of the trash that ends up in the landfill. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume a HUGE percentage of trash that goes into a landfill IS bio-degradable (please excuse my detour into fantasyland. This WILL go somewhere), let’s say 95%.

OK, now imagine you are going to eat a nice juicy prime rib steak. For me, that means it’s perfectly marinated and cooked up medium rare with some grilled mushrooms, and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. Well, at least 95% of this mouth watering meal is. The other 5% is raccoon road kill. But hey, it’s only 5% right?

I think you probably see my point. As with the steak, that 5% of toxic trash is going to ruin the other 95% of the trash heap.

Bio-Degradability may sound like a good idea, but is it really worth spending the 3-4 times more money for something that really is spinning its wheels in terms of actually benefitting the environment?

That leads us to the other huge cog in the great wheel of green production: recyclability. The upside on recyclability is that it ensures that product continues to be used in one form or another over and over again. So, instead of ending up in a landfill, it ends up with a new life as the same product, or in some cases enjoys a new life as something completely different. The downside here is that it requires a little more diligence on the part of the end user, as the product needs to eventually get back to a production facility that works with recycled materials.

Recycling materials is more work, but the benefits are clearly defined and self evident in comparison to bio-degradability. To recycle your products requires first, having a manufacturing partner that is willing to recycle product, second, you must have a plan to get your graphics to the manufacturer rather than the trash, and lastly, you need to be buying product that is both recyclable and created from as much recycled content as possible.

Basically, the idea here is that you are closing the production loop, so that rather than the production process being:

Manufacturer > Printer > Useful Life > Landfill

Instead, the process looks like this:

Manufacturer > Printer > Useful Life > Manufacturer

ABI Digital Solutions calls this process doing MORE: MUTUALLY OPERATING TO RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT. It’s more work, but the results are real and sustainable. Also, ABI Digital Solutions makes the process turnkey and simple.

First, ABI Digital Solutions has already done the research and works with manufacturers that DO recycle. Not only that, but they pay attention to the smaller details that sometimes we forget, such as looking at the overall “carbon footprint” of a product(for example looking at the amount of energy use involved with getting a product to the market place).

Second, ABI Digital Solutions assists you in having a plan to get product recycled. Simply let us know what products you plan to recycle when you order, and we will provide a pre-addressed and pre-paid shipping label for you to get the material to a recycling storage point (we store the materials until we have enough to ship a large amount all at once rather than sending lots of individual shipments).
Lastly, ABI has found (and continues to find!) an entire family of recyclable products to help meet all your cheer event needs.

Basically, have a plan! There are a lot of green options out there, but just because a product says it is “green” does not make it so. A few years ago, there were not many options, so choosing a green option certainly accomplished SOMETHING, as opposed to doing nothing, and that’s certainly a good thing (if you could afford it. Those initial options were EXPENSIVE!). Now, practically everyone offers some sort of green option, and it really has gotten a lot more confusing. A buyer really is trying to determine not only what is the most green option, but also what’s the most best green option for the price. That’s why ABI Digital Solutions has put so much effort into trying to wade through all the hype and information to assist their clients in navigating these rocky shores. Obviously we hope that you will choose ABI Digital Solutions to assist you in your green production needs, but we also hope that whatever you do, you think about your production needs from a new place that really helps to assist the environment.

Do I Even NEED A Billboard?

Last week, we discussed a lot of the “pros” for using Outdoor Advertising to promote your business.  Outdoor has proven to be one most the most cost effective ways of reaching the greatest number of people in your market.

But is it for EVERYONE?  Of course not.

Read more: Do I Even NEED A Billboard?