What’s the Deal With Billboards?

I just got back from a fantastic — however, too short — trip to the Adirondacks. I unplugged, did some hiking, and regularly wondered during my drive up north why certain marketers still feel the need to invest in billboards.

You know they’re going to have a decent snack aisle there. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons by Colin

I just got back from a fantastic — however, too short — trip to the Adirondacks. I unplugged, showed my boyfriend one of my favorite places on earth, did some hiking, played in a ridiculous 3-inning wiffle ball tournament with my cousins and regularly wondered during my drive up north why certain marketers still feel the need to invest in billboards.

Now, don’t get me wrong … the billboards that alert you to an upcoming deluxe truck stop in 10 miles, or a brewery and restaurant two exits away are 100 percent okay by me. They provide travelers with quick information that is actionable 98 percent of the time. Good deal.

However, the billboard for a digital agency that I saw on 95 North? That is a billboard I question.

Now, I didn’t get a shot of the billboard because I was driving, and mentioning WHO it is also doesn’t really matter for this post. Why? Because I don’t know much about this company (though I just did a little googling), and I think I want to keep looking at this from a blind perspective. So let’s get back to that.

The billboard hails the company as an expert in SEO, PPC, social, Web design … all things that are digital, pasted onto essentially a huge sign by the interstate. And sure, we see display ads everywhere: bus stop shelters, inside train cars, on subway walls. But in most of those settings, the prospect is sitting or standing still, can take in the information, and if there is a call to action, can take it.

Because they’re not driving a vehicle 72 mph down the highway.

I’m not sure how many people are going to be able to take action on a billboard like that. Perhaps if they drive that way to work every day, the name will stick in their heads and they’ll remember to look the company up once they get in the office … maybe. Depends on how gnarly that inbox is.

But I certainly hope I don’t see someone looking this company up on their phone as they floor it to get to work on time.

So I ask: Why? What’s the point for this kind of advertising? On one hand you might tell me that this company sticks out among the Utz pretzel and various beer billboards (all brand exposure focused), and on the other hand I’ll say that I don’t know if I can trust a company who sinks cash into billboards. And don’t get me started on the billboards I’ve seen with QR Codes (thankfully, fewer and fewer nowadays).

That said, the digital billboards that Netflix had for the Santa Clarita Diet were pretty great.

So marketers tell me: Yay or nay to billboard advertising.

Author: Melissa Ward

Melissa Ward is the managing editor for Target Marketing, and she has opinions! More importantly, she's a nerd for great copy and design, a disciple of authenticity, and really loves it when marketers get it right.

9 thoughts on “What’s the Deal With Billboards?”

  1. There’s a company HQ’d right in my neighborhood in Bristol, PA, called 1SEO.com. They have used billboards and other signage (on the local trains, for example) for years.

    The first one focused on a stunt about “1SEO.com got my mom tot he top of Google.” I felt like those were realy effective, and the website was easy to remember. I know I went to the site to check them out based on those.

    Now they’re more brand-focused and less clever (which doesn’t work as well, IMO). According to an interview with the owner, he doesn’t think the billboards get new customers (or at least not anymore) but he feels like they add credibility to a business that’s based in the suburbs:
    https://technical.ly/philly/2015/01/23/new-1seo-office/

    I know they incorporate billboards in some of their client case studies as well. So apparently they see some upside to them.

  2. If you have money to burn and everyone is your prospect then they can be effective in a cross-channel methodology. But if you have a targeted clientele they are a waste, in my opinion!

    1. Excellent plan! Thankfully there weren’t any billboards in the Adirondacks either … or at least any lame ones.

  3. You’re speaking to the choir! If it’s not for a roadside attraction or destination, I have no idea why people throw money into billboards, especially those electronic ones that change every 10 or 15 seconds. I already have a short attention span, I’m driving a CAR, and your billboard changes in mid-headline?

  4. One of my clients is a small downtown association; they use a large billboard owned by the city to advertise upcoming special events in combination with other marketing and advertising. The billboard is located an intersection on a state highway with a stop light; 50,000 cars pass by daily. When the sign blew down during a storm (I warned them this was going to happen 18 months prior!) a week before a major event, attendance was down by 20%. I’ve found that the message needs to be short, with memorable branding, and an easy to remember web address all used with other marketing.

    1. Event billboards make perfect sense to me as well, especially if they give me the core details quickly. Your client sounds like they had the right idea, until that storm came along! Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Outdoor is the last of the mass marketing mediums. As with any medium, it has strengths and weaknesses. Creative is key. If you are looking to reach a lot of people, you cannot beat outdoor advertising.

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