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!)