Mike Fromowitz
Aug 9, 2012

Billboards are more creative than anyone has yet to imagine.

Advertising has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Everything has gone digital and digital is now a top priority on everyone’s radar it seems. But there are still many traditional mainstream ...

Billboards are more creative than anyone has yet to imagine.

Advertising has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Everything has gone digital and digital is now a top priority on everyone’s radar it seems. But there are still many traditional mainstream means of advertising,  like outdoor billboards that have been, and are still today, useful and powerful means of advertising products and services.

Generally, many of us tend to travel the same routes on a daily basis. This repetition makes outdoor advertising a great choice to generate high awareness levels in a short period of time. Because of this valuable characteristic, the medium is often used for new product or service introductions.

Regrettably, many billboards being created today are boring and unmemorable, resulting in very little return on investment. We live in a world of cookie-cutter marketing.  Drive along any roadway and you will find  patronizing and brain-achingly boring billboards.  It’s the era of the banal, where the bland lead the blind.  It feels like most billboard ads are being produced out of some huge machine programmed with some preconceived formula for how advertising should work.

Billboards surround us. We probably see hundreds of billboard ads every single week, but remember just a handful of them.

Unconvinced? Try to recall how many billboards you passed today on your way to work. You might have read a few, but how many of those billboards do you actually remember?  If you’re spending all of that money on a billboard to advertise your product or service, you want to make sure people are noticing and remembering it.

With outdoor advertising becoming increasingly more competitive, it’s important to know how to make your advertising count. One powerful ad can make you a fortune, but horrible billboards can cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue.  This is why it is extremely important to pay attention to every detail of your message.

From 2D to 3D

3-Dimensional billboards are an emerging new medium that has evolved from 2-dimensional billboards. 3D billboard construction used to be difficult, time consuming and expensive. However, with today’s technological advances the process has become significantly more manageable and inexpensive, allowing for advertisers to take advantage of this creative new medium. The already powerful visual impact of traditional billboards is propelled to another level because of the creative possibilities 3D billboards allow for.

I’ve always liked the creative potential of billboards. The best of them capture your attention, whether driving on the road or walking along the street. Some will even change themselves according to weather and time! Some are brilliant. Others are very funny. Perhaps its time to review their great potential once again.

Here are some strategies to ensure your billboard has the highest chance of being noticed, and more importantly, remembered.

1: Six to Eight words or less works best.

Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Writing billboards is tough. You’re delivering a sales message at highway speeds. On average, a billboard is only viewed for 6 to 7 seconds. Your message must be very short so it can be easily read by the people driving at 80km per hour or more by your sign. This is why it is very important to state your message as quick as possible.  So, around six to eight words is all you should use to get the message across. As a rule of thumb, less is more with billboards.  And that means, if you have a complex brand, product or service, you should stay away from billboards completely.

2: Get Noticed

Most often, billboards are aimed at drivers, bikers, cyclists or pedestrians. The dilemma for the advertiser is that you want to get noticed, but you don’t want to be responsible for road accidents. TBWA’s iconic “Hello Boys” Wonderbra ads were guilty of this. Drivers were so fascinated by Eva Herzigova’s cleavage that they were crashing into poles, medians and even each other. So, while being distracting is paramount in many mediums, it’s a fine balance with the billboard.

Still, your billboard idea needs to hit your audience right between the eyes — but do so in a way that amuses, entertains, or delivers a big benefit. That’s a tall order. To do it, you need three things.

  1. A lot of ideas. Pages of them.
  2. Knowledge of what billboards can offer in terms of creativity
  3. A constant reminder about your strategy so you don’t go off strategy

You can’t arrive at the finish without first knowing the destination. You must be very, very clear about what you’re selling. And I’m not talking about the product — I’m talking about the product message.

3: Copy Styles

Size of copy is also very important. Your copy must be big and clear in order to be read easily. Use a font that is very clear, and easy to read. If you have to look at words for longer than 3 seconds, it is not clear enough. Thick letter styles are also more effective than thin, fancy fonts. Be creative with your fonts, but make sure they can be read easily and quickly.

4: Billboards are not the place for direct response

I’ve seen billboards covered in phone numbers and website addresses.  Without a doubt, 99.9% of the people who read a billboard will call or log on. A billboard is a secondary advertising medium, which means that it’s ideal for brand-building and supporting a campaign, but it just cannot do the heavy lifting.  Billboards are a medium for quick messaging.

5: Billboard graphics

Unique, creative billboards will get the most attention. So use graphics that will make people turn around and take a second look at your ad. No matter what type of graphics you decide to put on your billboard, be sure they are not complex ones with too much  detail. If you are using photographs, use only one. Keep it simple. Simplifying things may mean that you have to prioritize things and only keep the most important items. This will not be an easy task, but it is definitely the most important one.

6: Billboards should be smart, and simple.

A boring billboard will be ignored. A smart billboard will grab the attention and leave a lasting impression. Complex visuals and copy just don’t work well. Don’t give people puzzles that Einstein would have trouble solving. You’re in the business of advertising, not showing off how clever you are.

7: Don’t Say It, Show It.

Get creative with your billboard ideas. This is your opportunity to do something eye-catching and memorable, so go for it.

8: Entertain and use humour.

People love to be entertained. That is why laughter has an enormous power when it comes to advertising. The use of humor in billboards does not only get the attention of consumers, it also make your product or service easier to recall or remember. If there is one advertisement that you seem to remember up to this day, I am sure it is one of those funny ads you saw on a billboard.

Billboards. The great creative opportunity!

Aside from all the boring ads we see on TV, in newspapers or magazines, and the creative ads we see featured at the award shows, billboards remain a huge creative opportunity if we set our creative minds to it. And if you think that creating a billboard ad is nothing special, then you may be missing something.

Here are some incredibly creative billboards that actually managed to do most all of the above in one way or another. I hope some of these billboard ideas will inspire you to push the boundaries too.

Mike Fromowitz



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