Why Use Billboard Advertising? The Pros and Cons

A Big, Noticeable Way to Bring Attention to Your Product or Service

Blank billboard on the highway
••• utah778 / Getty Images

The average American is exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements each day, and some of them are no doubt billboard ads. They come in many different shapes and sizes, occupying those huge boards on either side of a roadway. You'll also see them in city centers and anywhere else a billboard manufacturer can place them to earn money. 

They're part of the out-of-home (OOH) marketing mix.

Billboard Advertising Defined

The term "billboard" is derived from "billing board," a large outdoor advertising space designed to capture the attention of motorists and pedestrians. Typically placed around automotive and foot high-traffic areas, billboards are meant to be simple and striking.

Advertising agency creative departments prize billboard space for its golden opportunity to do groundbreaking, impactful work, but there are some drawbacks as well.

What We Like

  • You'll have a captive audience. No one seeing your ad can easily turn around and go the other way. Areas where delays and traffic jams are common can offer a great deal of bang for your buck.

  • Those who travel a certain route repeatedly, such as commuters, will see your ad day after day. Eventually, it will make an impact.

  • You'll reach a large audience compared to other media advertising.

What We Don't Like

  • It can be difficult to pinpoint a certain consumer demographic using a billboard. You'll reach a large number of people from all walks of life, but odds are they won't all be interested in your particular product or service.

  • Startup expenses can be more than with other forms of advertising, and you'll have monthly ongoing maintenance costs as well. Billboards are usually rented by the month.

  • Seeing the same ad day after day, Monday through Friday, can turn some people off. Something that mildly offended them the first time they saw it can become grating by week #4, so you could lose rather than generate sales if your ad isn't perfect.

Billboard Details

The largest billboard available in a campaign is known as the "bulletin," but billboard sizes can vary greatly depending on location. The typical size is 14 feet high by 48 feet wide.

Billboards used to be created using sections of paper pasted together to form one image, but it's more common in the millennium to see digital printing on vinyl material. This allows the entire image to be printed on one sheet, and it can be erected quickly and easily. 

A billboard buy is usually for 12 weeks, so it's important that the content be at least somewhat evergreen. Billboards are the ideal place for long-term messaging, but anything more reactive should go somewhere else. 

Digital billboards allow creative executions that can be personalized, or swapped out with other ads. Clients can sometimes choose to timeshare their ads with other companies, swapping out every few minutes. 

Billboard Usage

Billboard advertising can be relatively inexpensive depending on the size and location, but the expense must be weighed against the kind of message you want to get across. Billboards are a very quick read, so they shouldn't contain a lot of information.

This type of advertising can be a great option if your campaign is one of awareness and branding, but it should be avoided if you want to convey a lot of information about your product or service. Six words is the ideal amount of copy on a billboard, and that can severely limit your ability to communicate with potential consumers.

You should also consider the content and tone of the billboard because this can have some negative side effects. Sexually provocative billboards have caused accidents on roads and motorways—the Wonderbra ads were infamous for this— and you don't want the negative publicity of car accidents being directly linked to your ad campaign or product.

Billboards That Go Beyond

There are regular billboards, then there are 3D billboards. These really go above and beyond to attract the attention of viewers.

Although there are height and width restrictions along with distraction rules in most states and jurisdictions, advertisers can push the boundaries and create boards that are newsworthy. Some have used smoke and other special effects, and others have even had real people "living" on them.

This type of billboard is generally not much more expensive because the bulk of the cost comes from renting the space rather than production. Creativity like this is worth exploring because it gives you a greater return on investment and media credit, which can draw thousands more eyes to your message.