The Great Outdoors

Natalie Mann

“I don’t pay attention to billboards.” As a Media Buyer, this is a comment I hear often. With almost 8 years in advertising under my belt, my first few years were spent in the Out of Home (OOH) advertising business and it’s where I learned a lot about the industry. The thing is, people do not think billboards play into their purchase decisions. But do they?

This is the main reason a media mix is so important to marketers. Each media platform offers its own unique method to reach consumers. Outdoor advertising offers value in a different, yet highly effective way. Reaching your target audience is the first step in creating a campaign. Repeated exposure of the message is second. While TV, Radio, OOH, or Digital, can be effective marketing tools alone, combining them can increase the chances of a successful campaign. An example of this would be a person seeing a TV ad at home, then seeing a billboard on their drive to work the next day. This repeated frequency keeps the message top-of-mind. It forces the consumer to recall your brand, product, service, etc… Repeated exposure leads to a decision, which in turn, leads to action. In today’s media environment, it is crucial for advertisers to connect with consumers both inside and outside of their homes. This need for connection creates an opportunity for billboards.


Outdoor media has its own way to measure reach and frequency compared to other traditional forms of advertising. It uses a measurement called impressions, which is the number of people who are likely to see a unit per week. Most consumers view the same outdoor signage on a daily basis (i.e. on their commute, taking children to school, etc.), and their familiarity with your brand develops a firm foundation. Impressions are based on each individual board, and are derived from a variety of data, including Census Data, Travel Surveys, Data Modeling, and many other sources. These sources even consider the physical characteristics of a board, such as placement, which side of the road, distance from traffic, angle, size, and whether or not it is illuminated with LED lights. It is actually a more complicated process than most people realize.


Typically, billboards are used as one part of an overall, diverse marketing campaign. An effective strategy is to create a multi-media plan, using a mix of billboards combined with other forms of advertising such as TV, radio, or digital. Using multiple platforms helps to maximize reach and frequency in any given campaign. Consider this example: A national sandwich chain wants to advertise their newest sub sandwich in several major markets, such as Atlanta, Raleigh, and Indianapolis. A multi-media campaign might consist of billboards, TV, radio, and direct mail (coupons), all running at the same time for one month market-wide. This would saturate the market and reach consumers on practically every level, inside and outside of their homes, with the purpose of generating higher sales and traffic to the restaurants. This is just one example of how to effectively integrate billboards into an overall media strategy.

Billboards can also be used as a standalone medium for general awareness or branding campaigns. When placed in prominent and highly trafficked locations for long periods of time, this strategy can be effective. For anything longer than 4-8 weeks, it is recommended that the creative be freshened up, so that people will notice it again. If placed in the right location, the 24/7 nature of billboards can be an effective method in providing constant exposure to an advertiser’s brand. The role of frequency is to drive curiosity, recognition, and decision.

On the flip side, there are also campaigns where billboards may not be the best strategy. With limited control of who sees your ad, it may not make sense if you are trying to connect with a niche audience. Billboards will be seen by everyone, so it would be wasteful to spend dollars on marketing a product that you are only looking to sell only to a specific audience. Think of a boutique that only sells a specific kind of shoe – you would not want to necessarily reach the masses when only a small percentage of people purchase this type of shoe. You may be better suited to run a targeted digital campaign instead. Consider that same boutique decides to advertise all types of shoes in their store and wants to expand their pool of customers. Utilizing billboards to generate awareness of their brand on a larger scale might make the most sense in that case.


Outdoor advertising can be an effective way to reach an audience. It ultimately comes down to what your overall campaign goals are and the type of message you want to send. 

A massive 14’x48’ billboard does not look the same as a display ad you might see while scrolling on your smart phone. The size of the space matters and can be used to an advertiser’s advantage (or disadvantage if used incorrectly). People driving are likely to have only a few seconds to see your message. To capture attention, keep the creative simple. Less is more.

Here are some DO’s when it comes to message/creative:

  • DO: Use the space to target your audience. Think about what kind of ads will reach them.
  • DO: Come up with a clear message: Decide what you want to send and focus on it. 
  • DO: Keep design elements to a minimum. 3 are ideal – picture/graphic, call-to-action, logo. Again, keeping it simple is key.
  • DO: Entertain your audience. Use your imagination to think of ways to get them to seek out more information about your company or business.

Some DON’TS when it comes to message/creative:

  • DON’T: Use too many words
  • DON’t: Use letters that are too small to read from where the board will be seen
  • DON’T: Use too many images, colors, or fonts. Use simple, large fonts that are readable from a distance (500’+).
  • DON’T: Have too much clutter, such as long websites/phone numbers, disclaimers, or lengthy copy. This strategy does not make sense for people driving past your sign. The chances a viewer will remember your phone number while flying down a highway are slim to none.

These common mistakes can really hinder what could have otherwise been a successful campaign. You want the message to be eye-catching, but not distracting. It should be quick, meaningful, and memorable.


Remember that you are not alone in trying to demand the attention of your target audience. Competing companies are advertising in the same medium you have selected, so more frequency is required to ensure consumers see your message. Therefore, incorporating a media mix is key. There is a short window of time to generate a desired action so adding elements to your overall media plan to increase exposure in a shorter timeframe will increase the opportunity for people to see and process your message. Consider the creative a critical aspect to using billboards effectively. Keep your message short and to the point, as the consumer only has a few seconds to see it. When coming up with the creative, keep in mind - will they see it, will they remember it, does the message move the needle in the direction I desire? No matter the size of your business, if developing your brand and obtaining maximum exposure is important to you, outdoor advertising should be a consideration in your marketing plans.