Does your billboard have stopping power?

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 24, 2006

If the City of New York has Time Square, home to one of the world’s best and spectacular displays of billboard, so do we have EDSA from the junction of Mandaluyong to Makati. Judging from the number and prominent sizes of many billboards across EDSA indeed, this major thoroughfare lives up to its perception as the billboard avenue.

Early billboard forms

Billboards happen to be the world’s oldest form of advertising. Signage was the earliest form of marketing communications used by the first Egyptian merchants who chiseled sales and promotional messages onto stone tablets, later posting them along public roads.

Improvements in printing production led to the evolution from handchiseled stone tablet signs to more aesthetically designed posters, originally called bills, in the 1800s.

Billboard as a media strategy was originally extensively used by circuses, whose owners invested heavily in advanced promotions. Many of the circus owners eventually became providers of billboards themselves.

In the 20th century, marketers began to seriously look at billboards as a means to establish brand awareness. This was also the same period when outdoor shrines like the New York City’s Times Square in the West Coast and Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in the East Coast rose due to the huge number of spectacular displays by brand icons like Coke, Kellogg, Levis, Wrigley, etc. Both shrines reign as the outdoor capital of the world even today. New York City’s Time Square rests between Broadway and 7th and 43rd and 47th streets while Sunset Strip is a 2.2-mile stretch along Sunset Blvd. running between Beverly Hills and the city of Los Angeles. Advertisers are not only encouraged to construct bigger and brighter displays in these areas but the City Planning Commission mandates it due to its tourism value.

Over time, the increasing number of billboard suppliers in the U.S. has led to the creation of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), In the Philippines, a self-regulatory body, the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines, was established in 1964 to help enforce public safety consciousness in the construction of outdoor signs and structures among member companies.

Growth of billboards

In more recent years, the billboard’s critical role in creating awareness and purchase intent is increasingly becoming recognized. A number of factors have fueled this growth:

1. Dramatic increases in vehicle ownership and the increasingly mobile lifestyle of individuals.

2. Women migrating from in-home to out-of-home. Women as primary buying influencers in the past were easier to reach. This changed as more and more women began to work and marketers had to think of ways to reach them outside their homes.

3. The medium’s capability to reach targeted consumers while they travel to their daily destinations.

4. The medium’s flexibility to reach specific target markets around their lifestyle e.g. billboards mounted close to the workplace, homes and neighborhoods, shopping districts, schools, etc.

5. Technological improvements in the production of large format signs today do justice to the product or service features.

How effective are billboards

A consumer perception study mounted by the Starcom Research in 2000 revealed the following:

1. Size and uniqueness of billboards drive memorability. Likewise simple, concise messages in smaller billboard formats.

2. People like billboards that entertain.

3. People expect billboards to change every so often, specially for highrecognition brands.

4. The perception that everyone hates out-of-home advertising is unfounded.

5. Transit riders enjoy the entertainment and distraction of billboard messages more than rush hour traffic.

An FBCRS usage, attitude and image survey conducted in 2003 complemented the Starcom research. The findings revealed:

1. A billboard’s unique design is an attribute that drives awareness and recall of advertising.

2. Use of bright, cheerful colors is preferred.

3. People like billboards in general as revealed by 96% of the respondents who gave overall positive comments.

Attributes of successful billboards

While billboards are enjoying a surge in media usage, marketers are challenged to present their billboards in ways that rise above the clutter. Some of the attributes that marketers can look into include the following as culled from a 2000 Sensory Logic Creative Test mounted in late 2000:

1. Stopping power – Successful billboards must have excellent stopping power. These include among others, the use of strong color contrasts between foreground and background elements; use of colors with deep saturation; avoidance of cluttered or very austere formats and use of a story line with dramatic tension or suspense to engage viewer interest.

2. Readability – These include making the picture image big, alive and simple; making the message clear; developing copy that is short yet full of punch and creating a seamless design with simple and clear texts and fonts.

3. Message clarity – Avoiding excessive brain teasing, ability to relate messages to familiar experiences and situations and emphasis on the product as hero or helper are dimensions of message clarity.

4. Memorability – These include the use of a powerful anchor visual element and images that hinge on real-life experiences.

Where to billboards?

Technology, highly targeted markets, new and emergent lifestyles are likely to lead to newer, more exciting billboards and out of home formats. Some exciting executions include beautifully designed wall murals and building shrinkwraps, live billboards, storefront scaffoldings and street furniture, among others.