Since Covid eased, ad agencies have been taking their marketing thinking to a higher level, literally. Around the world, creatives have rediscovered the lost art of billboard advertising. And the result is more clever billboards than ever that grab consumers’ attention like never before. But why the renaissance?
Covid slammed the brakes on American roadways like no other event in history. As Covid took hold across the country in April 2020, road traffic decreased by 45% according to the American Automobile Association (AAA.)
That decreased automobile traffic driving by billboards by nearly half too. And weekly car traffic is the metric outdoor companies use to market their billboards. The impact on the advertising industry, in general, was devastating but the billboard industry was hit especially hard.
Brantley Davis knows. He’s been in the advertising business for more than thirty years. His D.C.-based firm, Brantley Davis Ad Agency, negotiates media across the U.S., including outdoors. He saw the fallout firsthand as billboard rates plummeted and many boards sat empty.
“With road traffic cut in half, we were able to negotiate billboard rates down to one-third of their usual cost. Initially, that was alluring but we had concerns about efficacy given the enormous decline in cars on the road. However, the lower rates allowed us to add many more billboards to our campaigns, vastly increasing reach and overall impact. That paid off for our law firm clients, especially those that did long-term deals, locking in lower rates even as traffic increased.”
Now billboard advertising is back. According to the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) revenue was up 38% in 3Q 2021. And 88% of the top 100 out-of-home advertisers in the U.S. have increased their spending on billboards. 51% have more than doubled their spending on outdoor. That’s leading to low billboard inventory in many markets and higher advertising rates.
One segment of advertisers driving the billboard buying frenzy is personal injury lawyers. From coast to coast, roadways are papered with law firms promoting their services on billboards.
Denver Colorado has been especially hard hit. Jordan Levine runs one of the top personal injury law firms in Denver and he’s never seen the competition for billboards this fierce.
“Since the pandemic eased and Denver started driving again, law firms have increased their spending across all advertising categories. But the spike in competition for billboards is unprecedented. We’re paying double what we used to pay for billboards and still losing them in bidding wars.”
Levine is a client of Brantley Davis Ad Agency and credits their ads with making him a household name in Denver.
“Everywhere I go in Denver, people recognize me as the billboard guy thanks to Brantley. It’s great from a marketing perspective but anonymity is certainly a thing of the past.”
With the high demand for billboards and increased ad spending, one would think the effectiveness of billboards would not be in question. However, there are still those out there who have concerns about the efficacy of billboard advertising. To allay any apprehension, OAAA conducted two surveys in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. Here’s what they found:
- 45% more consumers are noticing OOH marketing materials than before the COVID-19 outbreak.
- 69% of viewers of a digital street-level ad immediately took an action related to that ad: looking it up in a search engine, visiting a brick-and-mortar store, or purchasing a product, for instance.
- 65% of viewers visited a brick-and-mortar store or restaurant after seeing an OOH ad that provided directions to the nearest store location.
Survey results and top advertisers renewed commitment to outdoor advertising make a compelling case for billboards. But Brantley Davis cautions advertisers to follow the rules for successful billboard advertising:
- LOCATION: Choose billboards in high-traffic locations where they will be seen.
- RIDE THE BOARDS: Ride the boards and personally view each board to check for distance from the road, time to read the board, and obstructions not shown in the outdoor company’s photos.
- 15 SHOWING MINIMUM: Buying several very high-impact boards can garner attention. But many markets don’t offer those boards or they’re already sold out. As a rule, you should buy a minimum of 15 boards per showing in a market.
- NEGOTIATE: Sure, the environment is highly competitive right now but in markets where multiple billboard companies are present, pit the company’s against each other in negotiations to get the best deal. And note, billboard companies will substantially lower rates for long-term deals. We recommend a minimum of three months.
- MAKE IT MEMORABLE: Make the billboard memorable. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. A sense of humor is even apropo as long as that’s in line with your brand. Make someone smile and the ensuing chemical reaction in the viewer’s brain will keep you top of your mind for a long time.
- PART OF A CAMPAIGN: Most billboard ads run in conjunction with a multimedia advertising campaign. For example, law firms typically run TV, CTV, PPC, and even Radio in conjunction with their outdoor advertising. The billboards serve to extend reach and maintain brand awareness when consumers are out of homes and away from other forms of paid media.
- HIRE AN AD AGENCY:
– Many advertisers cram so many words on a billboard they fail to communicate anything. Remember 8 words or less.
– Emphasize the spokesperson’s face, not their body. Make the face big so people recognize them.
– Don’t be bored unless you have bought so many billboards in the market, your frequency becomes the message.
– Don’t let the billboard company lay out your billboard. Hire an ad agency to help you with concepts and designs. If you select the right partner, they will produce much more impactful boards than you or the billboard company could ever create.
Davis says there’s excitement in his ad agency and the industry around billboards that he hasn’t seen in decades, “Art directors and writers are having fun, arguing, laughing, enjoying their art. They’re even taking selfies in front of the boards. It’s recharging their creative souls.”
Jeans are so sexy, even this billboard in Los Angeles had to have a pair of Levi’s 501.