4 Ways Billboards Can Still Be Great

by Ted Cockle

I love billboards. While many may consider this “analog” advertising form to be obsolete in our web-ad saturated culture, I’m inclined to disagree. Billboards can still be great and serve businesses quite well. Even if I’m wrong and they end up only costing companies money, I’m happy to be entertained at corporate America’s expense.

So, what distinguishes between wasted money and a “money” ad? Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Four Characteristics of a Good Billboard

  1. Attention Grabbing

    Does the ad beg to be read? Hopefully when you drive you keep your eyes on the road—especially on highways. This is a large obstacle a great billboard must overcome. Your billboard basically has to say, “stop being safe for a moment and sneak a look, I promise it’s worth it…then you can get back to focusing on the road.”

  2. Part of a Whole

    Does the ad fit into an established framework? Due to the short window a driver has to actually read what is on the billboard (see above), a billboard can be successful if it merely calls to mind an advertisement or brand image that the driver has already seen. If the first ad experience evoked a strong enough emotion, it is likely that the billboard will stir up similar emotions and further associate them with the brand—even upon a quick drive-by.

  3. Clear Messaging

    Can the message be understood quickly and easily? Yet again, the limitation of time dictates the success or failure of the ad. Can a person clearly read and comprehend the message in the 5 or 6 seconds it takes to drive by it? Is it concise? Does it make sense?

  4. Well Placed

    Will the ad get seen? It doesn’t matter how great your ad is if it never gets seen by the right people. Generally speaking a main thoroughfare is going to be your best bet—back country roads probably won’t grant you the most bang for your buck.

An ad that gets it right

A Jackson Hole, Wyo., marketing strategy on Colorado’s I-70 highway. (via)

The large font and intriguing question from the headline draws drivers to further explore what the ad has to say. The campaign called to mind online and tv ads that drivers had likely seen through the other parts of this comprehensive campaign (read more on this here). Based on the excellent placement along I-70 on the way back from Colorado’s top ski resorts, the message was clear—Jackson Hole mountain resort is in a league of it’s own. Everything else is just practice. Brilliant!

The Best Part

Want to know the best part? These billboard tips apply to almost any ad anywhere. Grab attention, reinforce your vision, communicate clearly, and place it wisely.

When this is done well everyone wins. Ads are effective, and drivers are happy.


What are some of the most effective billboards you’ve seen?