Long after the last of the storied Burma-Shave highway signs came down, outdoor billboards continue to provide an excellent opportunity to connect with people on the go. Remembering seven simple realities of outdoor advertising can make your outdoor boards far more effective, so your investment in them provides a higher return.
1. Choose the right place. Location is one of the most important factors affecting how well a board will perform. It also has a tremendous effect on what you’ll pay every month. For example, if you’re a local business that serves only local customers, you probably don’t need to pay the premium price for a board on the Interstate. The positioning of the board is also important. If it is angled in such a way that it’s barely visible to oncoming traffic, it’s probably a bad choice.
2. Stick to one message. Even at a speed of 40 miles per hour, a car passes by a standard-sized billboard very quickly. That’s even more of an issue along the Interstates, where drivers may be doing 70 or better. If you’re lucky, your board will be within the driver’s range of vision for 10 seconds. But odds are good that he or she will spend most of those ten seconds watching the road and other drivers instead of carefully reading your outdoor board. So make sure your message is very simple and very communicative.
3. Keep it short. A rule of thumb is that you should have no more than seven words on your outdoor board. Like all rules, that one can be broken, but there is a lot of wisdom behind it. People will see your board very briefly, so they don’t have time to read a lot. Short, simple messages succeed. Have ten or more words? That’s probably way too many.
4. Make words big. In most cases, your board will be seen from quite a distance and for a very short time, so it’s important that it’s easy to read. Choose typefaces (fonts) that are easy to read, too. Outdoor boards are not the place for lettering with intricate designs or nonstandard characters. You want to be sure that every letter is readable, and that there’s enough space between letters and words so a distant reader doesn’t have to strain to get your message.
5. Design it simply. Color choices are particularly important with outdoor boards. The color of the type and background should have a strong contrast. Combinations such as black type on a white or yellow background are much easier to see than combinations such as orange type on yellow. Some combinations, such as red and green, can actually cause an effect that designers refer to as vibration, causing them to look blurry. If the board doesn’t have lights, you may want to use some type of reflective material for the lettering to improve visibility at night.
6. Avoid TMI. Too many advertisers cram too much information on their boards. This isn’t a brochure that people can read at their leisure. Do you really need your phone number? Website address? Street address? Remember the importance of simplicity, and pare your messages down to the minimum. Use images to sell, instead of words. A big photo of a gooey cheeseburger will connect with a hungry driver far better than a phrase like “Tasty Cheeseburgers.”
7. Start with the end in mind. What do you want the driver to do or remember? I often see a board for a local chain of restaurants. The board lists all three locations and all three phone numbers. Are the owners expecting drivers to memorize all that? Do they think drivers can notice, choose, remember, and dial even one of those numbers as they weave in and out of semi-track traffic at 70 m.p.h.? A better approach might be to put the exit numbers for each of the locations.
You’ll notice that billboards for the major burger chains have little in common with the other advertising approaches used by those chains. They’re usually far simpler and focus on getting you to their location at the next exit. Sometimes, the boards are as simple as a logo and an exit number. It isn’t that they couldn’t come up with a better idea — it’s that they’re experts, and they know that when it comes to outdoor boards, simplicity simply works.