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Billboards: “you can’t turn me off”

January 31, 2011

I live in a rural area in central Minnesota and passed exactly zero billboards on the way to work this morning. Along with reminding me that I wasn’t about to find anything exciting ahead, the noticeable absence of the outdoor medium gave me an opportunity to think about what I do and don’t like about those annoying view blockers that help me know when to exit for a super-sized back side.

You can’t throw them out like mail, you can’t turn them off like radio or television…So the only thing left for a marketer to do is make sure you can’t ignore them. Along with the willingness to think beyond a rectangle, a great billboard is accomplished by having specific answers to two simple questions:
Q1. What do you want to communicate about your product or service?
Q2. How can you use a billboard to get that message across?

Here’s how Miele Vacuums answered those questions:
A1. We want to communicate that our vacuums have amazing suction.
A2. Show the vacuum pulling something life-sized out of the air.

It’s almost enough to make me say “Dyson who?”

What other tips might help?

Rule 1: Your billboard needs to be noticed – make sure the concept is a head-turner.
I always encourage clients to take a bit of a risk with the imagery. Do something a bit out-of-the-norm and definitely visually-inspired.

Rule 2a: You should only make a SINGLE point – recall is improved when there is less to remember.
Keep your billboard message short…eight words tops.

Rule 2b: Skip the phone number, web, etc., unless it’s all you want to communicate (like in the quitplan.com example).
You can’t expect someone to catch your phone number at 70+ miles per hour.

Clear Channel Outdoor has a great product for simulating what CAN be seen. Try your artwork out on their MOVI presenter.

Rule 3: Location, location, location.
Heavy traffic, traffic on the way to your location, areas with limited competition, unexpected applications, billboards that don’t share space, great readability, lit boards, etc. Like any other medium, a great message is wasted without great execution. While the words are simple, I bet every sunblock company in the world wishes they would have thought of this:

So now the bad news. Unless you are advertising an exit for fast food, for many products and services, billboards are hard to credit for any sort of marketing response. Don’t beat your head against the wall trying to find a way. When you must, surrender the measurability of a specific billboard and instead chalk it up to a part of the overall recipe contributing to results. That doesn’t mean paint the town red with reckless abandon. You still need to observe the same strategic principles and have a defined purpose for using the outdoor medium.

If the best you can hope for is brand reinforcement, outdoor advertising can still work.
Brilliant Duracell!

Others who kept it simple, and were simply brilliant:

We all know word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising.
Make sure your next billboard is worth talking about.

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