The Long Game — Brand Awareness & Billboards

Jun 13, 2017 | Marketing

From time to time, media buyers at Audigy are asked about billboard advertising. It’s not an advertising form we typically promote, since billboards are best utilized for brand awareness, and our primary goal is to increase opportunity flow. There are instances, however, if the goal is more aligned with community awareness, when billboards will be worked into the mix.

Once a business owner decides on purchasing billboard space, the first step is to find existing billboard locations (also called “structures”) available for lease. There are two ways to go about this.

  1. Locations can be scouted while driving through the communities to target. If a board catches the eye, check the bottom of the board for the name of the leasing company. Billboards in the area are typically owned by several different companies.
  2. The most direct route might be for the interested business owner to call billboard companies in the area and request maps pinpointing available boards. They will provide a set of “avails,” or “availabilities,” citing locations of boards along with other pertinent information, such as the name of current advertisers, monthly rates, and dates available. They will typically include an estimation of how many people will see the board, or an interested party may contact the department of transportation within the area for a traffic estimate.

Here’s a tip when it comes to landing the best locations: Contact the billboard companies six months to a year in advance. Many of the best locations are purchased on long-term contracts and only become available once or twice a year. And even boards with “good” locations rather than “great” locations are limited in number. It can be very frustrating trying to find good locations at the last minute.

Timing is of the essence. Once the board is sold, it’s sold, and the search process will have to start all over again. Once the decision on location has been made, it’s best to snap it up, as they don’t typically last long — and space is very limited. This is particularly true during election years busy with political-candidate or ballot-issue advertising.

When it comes to choosing locations for billboards, it’s important to drive by the actual location if possible, ensuring the board isn’t covered by trees or other plants or materials that could interfere with visibility. The business owner should also ensure the board doesn’t appear to “come up” on the driver too suddenly, which would mean a limited time for the board’s message to be read and understood. Seasonality should also be kept in mind. If looking in the winter, when leaves have fallen from trees, consider how the billboard may appear once the leaves have returned in spring and summer.

There’s always a downside to signing a contract ahead of time to lock in a good location. Should a business owner later experience a cash-flow problem, they may have a difficult time getting out of a signed commitment.

Here’s a money-saving tip: If one board is all the business can afford, move it to different locations every other month to reach more of the target market. However, it’s best to choose two to three locations and post the message for a minimum of three months; six months to a year is far better for building the brand.

When it comes to messaging, it’s best to use only eight to 10 words, plus the business name and location, as well as a graphic of some kind — and that’s all. Remember: The reader is moving at up to 70 mph, depending on the board’s location, and won’t have time to consume much information.

The design should be colorful to catch a driver’s eye and stand out from any other boards that may be nearby (small- and medium-size boards are sometimes placed together in groups of three or four). Note: Neon colors are bright and attractive, but they fade faster than non-neon shades.

Speaking of neon: More and more electronic boards have been popping up around the country. While these boards are flashy and the “latest thing” in the industry, advertisers share the space with as many as eight other businesses, with messages rotating in five- to eight-second segments. Why spend the money each month to reach one-eighth of the total traffic that passes by one of these electronic boards when a static board could be purchased and receive 100 percent of the exposure?

No matter whether one board is purchased or a whole “showing” (several boards up at the same time), billboards are a bold form of advertising. It is important to keep the end goal in mind. This is a branding medium, calling for longer time frames. Billboards should not be considered a strong direct-response tactic but rather a means to boost overall awareness.

Appropriate For:

Almost any business, large or small, but particularly workable for businesses with a broad customer base, such as car dealerships, pharmacies, pet-supply stores, or even home-improvement stores.

Typical Cost:

$500 to $5,000 per month, just for space. This depends on several factors, such as geographic location, board size, illumination, estimated traffic, and number of boards purchased at one time. In some larger markets, billboards can run over $10,000 per month for space. Production is charged separately, per art change.