In today’s infinitely varied media ecosystem, how do you get the word out to absolutely everyone? Consider the billboard, part of the American landscape since the 1860s, currently helping advertisers reach many thousands more eyeballs within a specific geographic region than they’re likely to by any other means — and capable of driving a significant increase in your ROI.
The Out of Home Advertising Association of America (oaaa.org) says there are close to 370,000 large-format billboards in the country right now, many of them in the service of multinational megabrands. The industry is projected to grow by double digits in 2022; only digital advertising is growing faster. As part of a media plan, billboards can be high-octane fuel; a 2017 study from the OAAA indicates that out-of-home ads generate $5.97 in sales for every dollar of investment. OOH advertising, billboards included, has been demonstrated to improve online search effectiveness by 40%.
Making a big impact on a moving target market
About 6,100 of the country’s billboards are digital ones with rapidly changing displays. Most are printed in weather-resistant ink on PVC vinyl, a versatile process that’s become much more cost-effective since the days of hand-painting and individually applied letters. The typical size is 14×48, meaning they offer 672 square feet in which to present a message that moves, informs and drives action. Another form of OOH, the bus wrap, has the added advantage of putting your message in front of people in well-traveled and constantly changing locations.
Not everyone loves a billboard — four states ban them outright, quite a few major cities have decided not to add any more, and the organization Scenic America devotes considerable energy to lobbying against them. Clearly there are places where billboards don’t belong. That said, people read them — 71% of drivers say they consciously look at billboards — and when done well, they can impart important information while adding visual interest to a trip.
Partnering outdoor with digital for maximum returns
Perhaps surprisingly for a medium that’s been around since horse-and-buggy days, OOH advertising pairs exceptionally well with digital channels when done right, About half of the respondents in one survey reported being “highly engaged” by a billboard in the previous month, and a Neilsen report indicates that about 50% of US adults have used an internet search engine to find more information after seeing a billboard. Among Gen-Z and millennial consumers, 67% report seeing OOH ads reposted as social media. When you become a meme, you’re reaching people.
Doing Billboards Right
Here’s some of what we’ve learned on billboard campaigns with Crystal Run Healthcare, Hudson Valley Hospice, Dutchess County Department of Community and Behavioral Health, and law firm Rutberg Breslow,
- Simple, attractive and inviting designs grab attention without creating resentment — after all, they can’t escape your billboard, and you don’t want them to wish they could.
- A driver will typically have 5-10 seconds to absorb your message. A brief, memorable phrase or sentence should capture your message and call to action.
- Most people remember words more readily than numbers, so a concise URL is better than a phone number.
- Billboards reach a completely random sample of people who happen to be passing a given spot, and they need to be welcoming and universal.