Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Billboards - Drive By Advertising or Wasted Space?

Coming into Las Vegas, you don't need a show guide to see who's playing. One trip from the airport and all the major acts in town are displayed larger than life. Penn & Teller, The Jersey Boys, David Copperfield, are all standing tall above the road. The promoters in Las Vegas must believe that billboards are an effective form of advertising. And they'd be right.

To some extent.

Billboards certainly have the power to be effective tools in your advertising repertoire. They have two inherent advantages over other media.
  1. They reach lots of people fairly inexpensively.
  2. They reach lots of people with regular, heavy frequency
We are creatures of habit. We travel down the same roads on the same route to work, to school, or to home. We see the same billboards once, twice, maybe as much as 6 or 8 times a day. That is a lot of impressions. Some say billboards are the most cost-effective method of reaching a mass audience with enough frequency to be remembered (remember our discussion about frequency in radio?).

But not all billboards ARE remembered. Like other passive media, there are important steps to creating a successful media campaign.

First, you have to understand the limitations of billboards. A person has, at best, about 3-4 seconds to read your billboard - only enough time for 1 picture and 8 words (including your logo). That is not much room or time to say much of anything. On those Vegas Act billboards there is a picture of the performers, the name of the performance, and the hotel where it is performed. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yet, too many ineffective billboards try to cram too much text, too many or too complicated pictures, and then add in the company logo, address, phone, website and directions. It will take you three or four passes just to read it all. Yet, you'll be bored enough to ignore it after the first drive by.

Frequency, while good because it reinforces your message, can also work against you. After seeing a billboard a few times, if the picture has no meaning and stays unchanged over time, it starts to blend into the background.

And frequency is not always the most important element. Those Vegas boards are seen only once, yet they work. Why? Because the message already has an emotional content for the reader. When you see Penn & Teller, you already have a feeling attached, either from experience, or other forms of advertising. The feeling may be one of excitement or one of disinterest. But the feeling is there nonetheless.

Therefore, the emotions that your billboard evoke are every bit as important to it's success as the number of people who see it and the frequency by which they see it.

To do billboard advertising effectively, follow these tips:
  • Limit your board to 1 picture and 8 words including your store name & website. Anything more and the board has too much information. Simplicity is best.
  • Print the design of your board on an 8.5x11 paper and tape it to the wall across the room. All designs look good on a computer screen. The key is if it looks good from a distance.
  • Use a picture that elicits an emotion tied to your store. Without an emotional tie, the billboard is just clutter on the mental freeway.
  • Change your boards frequently. After about 3-4 weeks, unchanged billboards become invisible.
Billboards CAN be effective when done right, reaching a ton of people at a fraction of the cost of newspaper or TV. But you have to be able to make an emotional connection with 1 picture and 8 words. Can you do that with your business? If so, call your outdoor advertising rep today. If not, get back to the drawing board and find another advertising avenue to explore.

Do you agree or disagree?

-Phil

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