6 steps: Creating outdoor billboards with IMPACT


Outdoor billboard advertising continues to be popular, especially during an economic downturn. They can have steady, continuous impact compared to broadcast messages for example, because the boards are always “on.” Impact that is, IF the message and design have been created effectively.

Look around and you’ll see many advertisers treating outdoor as an oversized print advertisement or expanded business card. BIG MISTAKE. Like all forms of communication, you have to develop your message and design to fit the media – not the other way around. Here are some tips that every advertiser should follow in order to get the most impact out of their outdoor media investment:

1)      Keep it simple. Your audience is on the move, so your message must be brief and eye-catching. You only have FOUR SECONDS to capture attention and have your audience understand the message.

2)      Tell them the most important information ONLY. A billboard is not meant to give great detail. Extra copy takes too long to read, clutters the sign, and can’t be understood in only 4 seconds.

3)      Billboards should be visible and understandable at least 500 feet away.

4)      White space is good. Don’t try to fill it.

5)      Avoid metaphors. Comparisons can be clever but should be immediately obvious.

6)      Be creative. Attracting attention is important – just be sure not to compromise your message.

Here is an example of a poorly designed billboard:

Billboard Message2

The board calls your attention with TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, but after that there is no message. The graphic provides no hint of the board’s purpose, the logos are too small to decipher who is sharing the message and the URL is much too long to recall with a 4 second glance. Simply designed, but no impact.

Another example:

Hilltop Lumber

The board calls your attention with the company name but after that the message is lost. Too many elements and too much information to process. Give yourself 4 seconds to look at this example. What do you remember? What is the key message? In this case white space would be very helpful.

Now here’s an example of a strong billboard:

McDs More Mocha2

Message is crystal clear, product is obvious and the company logo is easily identifiable. Clear message, obvious impact.

And one final example:

Cherry Coke billboard

Clear, understandable, and done CREATIVELY enough to capture your attention.

Don’t get hung up on the fact that the last two boards are done by large corporations. It’s the message and delivery that’s strong. Any advertiser can create a board with impact – just follow the six steps. Get rid of the clutter and tell the world what you have to say. Your customers will appreciate you for it.

I see about 1 great billboard to every 9 cluttered, aimless ones. Which group is your company among? It’s time we change this ratio for good!

Dr. Colin N. Clarke is a senior strategist with the Flint Group. Follow him on Twitter @colinnclarke or on Facebook at

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