How to create a memorable billboard ad

Vincent Ninh
July 5, 2023
min read

You’ve probably driven past a lot of billboards going from job to job, but how many of them do you actually remember?

Americans spend an average of 300 hours in their car every year, and 71% of drivers consciously look at billboard messages while driving, so outdoor advertising can be a great way to tell the masses about your business.

But creating an ad that actually sticks with people — for the right reasons — can be a bit of an art. By following the five principles in this article, you'll be able to create a memorable ad that people will instantly think of the next time they need services you offer.

(Note that even though these tips are especially helpful when creating a billboard ad, they can often be applied to other types of ads as well.)

Be brief.

Drivers usually only have five to ten seconds to read and digest your billboard. This short time window is crucial to keep in mind when developing a billboard ad, and it is the key consideration for most of the advice we're about to give out, including our first tip: be brief.

For most billboards, your message should not exceed seven words, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. If you can keep it under five, even better.

Be different.

There are a lot of billboards out there. Some of them might even belong to your competitors. The good news? Many of them are forgettable. This means you can stand out among the clutter just by putting a little bit of thought into your message. Mainly, avoid clichés. 

For instance, declaring you’re the “best plumber in town, guaranteed!” may not be effective because it’s so generic and overplayed (even if it’s true).

Here are a few techniques you can use to stand out:

  • Relatability: Show how you’re solving a problem for a customer. Example: “Let us do the dirty work.”
  • Humor: Wit is a surefire way to catch someone’s attention — just make sure it ties back to your services (i.e., don’t be witty just to be witty). Example: “Let your love overflow, not your toilet.”
  • Your competitive advantage: Do you offer more services than your competitors? Faster service? Or better payment options thanks to financing through Wisetack? Helping customers understand why they should choose you over them is always a good idea. Example: “Get that new roof. Financing available.”

Be big.

Once you’ve got your message ready, it’s time to get the design going. Here, you need to be loud and simple. (Remember that thing we said about how you only have five to ten seconds to catch someone’s attention?)

Getting help from a graphic designer — or at least someone with access to Canva or Adobe InDesign — can come in handy.

The text should be clear and striking; make sure to use a font that is big and easy to read. To add some visual appeal, large and simple illustrations (or photos) can do the trick.

Too-detailed images, like a group photo of 15 employees, can confuse more than enlighten and that’s definitely not what you want. On the other hand, something like a giant illustration of a plunger or a leak can be grasped very quickly.  

Be in the right place…

As you work with an outdoor advertising company to figure out where to place your ad, you’ll want to find a good balance between cost and impressions (an estimate of how many people will see your billboard).

For this, you need to know your own audience inside and out. Where are your highest-valued customers located? Are there certain cities — or neighborhoods — where you would want the most visibility? Having all this information on hand before making ad placement decisions will help ensure your hard-earned cash is spent wisely.

At the right time.

In addition to making sure your ads are seen by the right people, you want to make sure they are shown to these people at the most relevant time. Depending on your business, this can be the busy season or the period just before it.

For example, if you do holiday light installation, it makes sense to prioritize your billboard ads during the fall season to encourage customers to get on your schedule before you’re booked out. Then, when the busy season comes, you can keep those ads going or put them on hold depending on how many more jobs you can handle.

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