Billboards have been used for advertising products and services since the 1920s, beginning with the world’s first brushless shaving cream manufacturer, Burma Shave. You usually saw three or four of the company’s road signs spaced at close intervals.
Here’s my favorite:
"HENRY THE EIGHTH"
"SURE HAD TROUBLE"
"USE BURMA SHAVE"
If you see your local car dealer with a billboard that says "Exit now for big savings," the dealership has probably found an effective way to drive traffic and sell vehicles. A Starbucks’ catchy board suggests, "Gentlemen, start your blinkers…Starbucks ahead…Exit 281." Radio stations also use billboard campaigns to get immediate results. When you’re driving it’s easy to "Listen to Star 107 right now."
One of the biggest problems for advertisers using billboards today began in 1965 with Lady Bird Johnson’s nationwide "Highway Beautification Act." That act started the decline of the billboard industry. Height and size restrictions have been implemented and, in many communities, if a billboard blows down in a storm, it cannot be replaced. With an inventory that’s constantly shrinking, the outdoor advertising community continues to have to raise prices to maintain a stable revenue stream. Currently there are four states — Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine — that have banned billboards completely.
TIPS FOR USING BILLBOARDS. Even though billboards can be used as one portion of a balanced marketing strategy, it pays to know as much as you can before beginning an outdoor campaign. Reach and frequency are important to success in billboard advertising just as they are in all types of marketing. Like TV and radio advertising, billboard efficiency is measured in gross rating points (GRPs). Typically purchased in "showings," a 25 showing means at least 25 percent of your market would see one of your boards once a day. To achieve a 25 showing, you may need more than one billboard, depending on the daily traffic count and the population in your market.
There are a lot of questions to answer before embarking on a billboard campaign. Do you use a graphic artist, ad agency or let the billboard company create the design? Should you feature large lighted boards or smaller posters? Should your board be in a fixed location or should you rotate it?
The answer to these questions depends on the individual needs of your business. As an advertising agency owner specializing in pest control companies, I frequently do not recommend billboard advertising for most PCOs. However, if you think your unique set of needs calls for outdoor advertising, here are some tips to help you get started:
• If you’re going for frequency, buy at least a 50 showing — but a 100 showing would be better.
Research indicates that a 100 showing reaches 88 percent of adults 24 times a month. The cost of such a campaign might be as low as $5,000 or $6,000 in a small market or as much as $200,000 in a large market. Most advertisers would not be able to afford this type of exposure except over a short period of time.
• If you’re going for reach, pick a location that has a high traffic count and be prepared to leave the billboard up for several months or longer.
• If you’re trying to point someone to your location, obviously you have to pick exactly the right board to accomplish the goal and plan to keep it up on a permanent basis.
OTHER ADVERTISING OPTIONS. Billboards certainly serve a purpose for some advertisers but we rarely use them for our PCO clients. If you have a large number of trucks with attractive signage, you have rolling billboards going to the areas of town most likely to reach your customer base.
If you have a billboard in a high-traffic area, such as a major freeway, much of your marketing dollars are wasted because there is a large percentage of cars that are just passing through (i.e., people who don’t even live in your market). It also can be expensive to continually replace the billboard’s vinyl as it tends to fade over a short period of time. One of the biggest disadvantages is that people can only read six to 10 words on a board while driving. As a result, creative messages are severely limited.
As a more effective replacement for billboard advertising, our firm recommends intrusive, top-of-mind branding that can only come through electronic media like radio and television. In a future article in PCT we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of radio and television and how they can be used to increase your business.