I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which means I’ve had ample opportunity to see a lot of billboards. Let me say the view is bad, in more ways than one.
On a recent trip into downtown Atlanta on I-75, for example, I tried to read what must have been 100 billboards over a 10-mile stretch. I emphasize “tried” because with only one exception, they were unreadable or unmemorable under the conditions of the day.
These 90 and 9 bad billboards could not be read for the following reasons:
- Messages were too long to be read at 70 miles an hour
- Type was too small to be seen from road level
- Imagery was too bland, busy or boring to attract attention
- Color combinations lacked contrast and reversed type was illegible
- Logos or names were too small to even identify the sponsor
- The message was too vague or unfocused to be remembered
I drove this same stretch twice within a few hours and tried deliberately to remember some of the boards, messages and sponsors, but found later I could not remember any, save one.
The board that got it right was for Ted’s Montana Grill. The name was large and set within the outline of a huge buffalo. The message? “Great Steaks.” That’s it—two words, plus the name.
Interesting that the guy who made his millions in the outdoor ad biz before he launched the 24-hour news revolution still knows how outdoor works.
Health care providers are particularly misguided about outdoor advertising. Healthcare is a complex business, and many health care providers find it impossible to resist producing complex messages, even within the limits of a billboard.
I recall a billboard from my home area that showed a picture or a linear accelerator, with a doctor in the foreground, with a team of nurses. The message was some long statement about quality cancer care. The doctor’s name was on the board, along with the name of a hospital, and the name and address of the cancer center. The board was perched about 70 feet above a busy interstate for a year, at a rate of several thou a month.
While I can’t sign an affidavit about the effectiveness of that billboard, I can tell you that at the end of the year the board came down, the physician left town and the cancer center changed hands. The only party to make anything off that advertisement was the outdoor advertising company.
I think many times—and physicians are particularly guilty here—healthcare entities choose billboards because they have limited budgets. They believe it is all they can afford. Because they see the board as their only hope, they load it up with too much information. The result is that their limited money is mostly wasted.
Physicians are used to giving orders and having everyone follow them. I’ve worked with a number of physicians on marketing ventures over the years, and they sometimes bristle at the notion that someone knows more about a topic than they do. If they insist on putting two pictures and a paragraph on a billboard, they can probably pressure an ad company into accommodating them.
Sometimes you spot an example that is so egregious you just have to pull over and take a picture. The advertiser here may be a great doctor with a product or service that will change the world, but it’s not getting through on this board.
Healthcare is a complex and expensive business. What a shame to waste so much effort and money on bad billboards.
Want to produce better billboards? Keep them simple, short, bold and memorable. If you can’t limit your message to 5 or 6 words, or communicate your message in less than 5 seconds, get some expert advice or rethink your plans.
Also shown is a billboard design I would place in the good category. It features a short, readable message and bold colors. It uses a well-known symbol to connect the message to the sponsor, as well as the sponsor’s name simplified to a single word. The message can be absorbed and understood by most drivers, even if they only have time to see the one, central word–OUTCOMES.
The primary difference between bad billboards and good ones is sacrifice. Those able to pare down the message to the purely essential will be the most successful.