I’ve used billboards for our institution for about 25 years. They’re effective if the message is simple in a dynamic design. But there are many other things to consider, which I know from good and bad experience.
Do not buy a board unless you know these things:
Its location. If it’s on the left side of the road you’re traveling, it’s probably a waste. It’s too far away from the traveler, and most of us don’t look to the left when driving unless we’re quick-checking scenery.
If it’s on the right and too far away, it will be glanced at and not processed.
Even with a board in a good location on a highway, you’re traveling 55-65 miles an hour. You have 4-6 seconds to see and process it. The image has to be grabbing and the message has to be brief and dynamic.
If you have too many words it won’t be read at all (a standard rule for anything but really important for billboards).
Do not give complete faith to billboard sales reps. They’re under pressure to fill the blank space. A sales rep I’ve dealt with for years pushed a board on an interstate. Great deal. I asked him to send me a photo of it. He did. It appeared to be close to the right side of the highway with a long visual reach.
I bought it. My graphic artist created a dynamic design.
A colleague drove by and took a picture of it. Turns out it was actually down over a bank and was visible for a second or two. The company photographer had walked down the bank and taken a picture of it, making it look like it was next to the highway.
It also turned out that our president also saw it and was outraged at the rip-off. My credibility with him was damaged.
My rep claimed he knew nothing about how it was presented to us.
A second board was presented in the same way. It was smaller but closer to the road. The problem: the board was behind a small hill and what appeared to have a seven second view was actually about two seconds.
For the most part, sales reps are not trustworthy. Boards in prime locations go for top dollar. If a rep tells you he can give you a good deal on a board, it’s because it’s in a bad location and not selling well.
The reps are under pressure to keep the board filled just as radio and TV needs to fill “inventory” and web sites need to sell “real estate” or whatever the latest term is.
With billboards, you need to scout the location yourself if possible. If you’re doing something out of your area, you need a guarantee that the board is in a good location, and I don’t know how you do this. We bought a board out of the area where the rep figured we would never see it. It just happened that an employee was a native of that area and drove by it. The board was in a field so far away that the message was barely visible.
For billboards, the message and design is your responsibility. The rest is up to the reps and with them I give a nod to the X Files:
Trust No One.