8 Tips To Composing A Successful Billboard


"A Dream Died Here."

That's all the sign said, and that's all it needed to say to pique my interest. The billboard was off an exit about halfway through a several-hundred mile car trip, and those four words captured my attention from that mile-marker on; in fact, I'm still thinking about what that dream was, and what might have happened to end it!

Out-of-home advertising continues to be a cornerstone of effective marketing, making bold statements along highways and interstates and in close proximity to pedestrians and shoppers. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, billboard and other out-of-home media revenue rose 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, accounting for more than $1.6 billion!

But in order to stake a successful claim in the out-of-home media world, you can't just throw anything on a billboard and expect sales. Here are eight proven tips to composing a successful billboard.



1. Know your product.

First, do your homework to understand your product or service and your competition. Without insight into what you're trying to sell, you'll have to work a lot harder to convey a diluted message. By understanding the nuances of your product and service, you'll be able to have more fun with the creative execution of the billboard, too!

2. Unify your message.

Once you know everything there is to know about your product, use that knowledge of the product to create the strongest single message you can. Though there are many things you'll want to talk about, resist that urge and focus on the best attributes. The message will most likely be a call to action, though it doesn't always have to be. I like what Jocelyn Broder says about laser-focusing your message:

"We oftentimes feel the need to get the entire gist in the first sentence.  I once saw a lead sentence with more than 80 words; that’s a paragraph! Long sentences are harder for readers to digest and when your message only has five seconds to do the job, it’s important to make the message easy. Take the time to pare down the words in the first sentence, make every word count and you may be surprised that people will continue to read rather than give up on the run-on lead sentence containing every idea and nuance of the message."

Once you've established your message, you can take it and apply it to the three components your billboard needs: a headline, a graphic, and a point-of-contact.

3. Be brief.

Even though you’ve got a 14-foot by 48-foot canvas, the copy in your message should be short; in fact, the shorter your message is, the more effective it will be. The golden standard for billboard advertising is to have no more than seven words; any more, and your audience won't have the time, or desire, to keep reading. Don't write a novel, write a headline.

In the example I shared above, it took only four words to grab my attention. We even pulled over to find out what "died"---it turned out to be a failed amusement village the owners are trying to revitalize through fund raising. Their wording worked on us, and I'm sure we're not the only ones!

4. Invest in design.

With a billboard, what you see is what you get, and that visual appeal can make or break your entire message. Don't skimp on this aspect!

  • Use large type. You want your potential customers to be able to read what you've said.

  • Don't get cute with fonts---keep it legible, and mirror the tone of your copy.

  • Pick a single, relevant image to use.

  • Use---but don't overuse---color.

  • Seek out a designer if you need one. (Sometimes you think you don't... but you probably do.)

5. Use only a single point of contact.

This one seems counter-intuitive... we want our customers to have every opportunity to reach us! But for out-of-home advertising, one method of contact is enough, whether it is a website, physical address, or phone number. For nearby retail or restaurants, location-based contacts make sense. "Left on exit 4B!" tells your customer exactly how to get to you.

For services, an easily remembered website or phone number can help drive customers to your business. Then, if you pair that contact information with a call tracking number, you'll know exactly how successful your billboard leads are, or you can use that information to adjust your advertising if necessary.

6. Target your audience.

I love this example of targeted advertising by Mini:

"As they pass digital screens along one of London's main roads, Mini drivers find simple, fun content aimed directly at them. Messages such as "Hey Cream Mini, what's your secret?" and ""Hello blue Mini driver" flash up on giant screens, thanks to software that recognizes the Minis as they drive by. There is also a team of "spotters" who had to pass a test to prove they could see and name a make of a MINI from 50 paces.

At gas stations along the way, Mini drivers are offered treats -- bacon sandwiches or smoothies in the morning and a tank of fuel or bunch of flowers on the journey home. Drivers can also choose to have their photo taken and displayed with a bespoke message as they approach the digital poster sites. The push is part of Mini's "Not Normal" campaign, which celebrates the individuality of Mini drivers."

What a fun and innovative way to single-out your customer and delight them! Not only does the car company celebrate its current customers, but it certainly gains the attention, and likely admiration, of a few potential Mini-drivers, too.

7. Think outside the box.

Some of the most successful campaigns break out of the rectangle to shock, entertain, and delight potential customers when the mode is appropriate to the message. Check out these galleries of award-winning Outdoor Advertising Association of America billboards to see how alternatives to the rectangle can set you apart from the competition.

8. Test, test, test!

The final step in composing a successful billboard is to track the leads its generating. By using specific call tracking numbers or website addresses on different billboards in different locations, you'll be able to point to the data to know which signs are performing best and bringing in new customers!

How has billboard advertising worked for you? Seen any awesome signs lately? Leave us a comment---we want to know!