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Billboards – The Drive-By Advertising

When you’re too young to drive and born before portable DVD players existed, a trip from Michigan to Florida was a lot longer than it is today (not even counting the fact that the speed limit was 55 back then). I wasn’t the book reader in my youth that I am now, either. Mostly what I read on one of our trips south was road signs and billboards.

Image result for ruby falls billboard

I think I counted 37 of these “See Ruby Falls” signs on one trip.

The billboard that blew my mind on one of these trips to Florida was a sign just outside Orlando for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the famous Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Yes, Michigan! In Florida!

I had seen their billboards all over Michigan. That made sense to me. You’ll drive across the state to go to this 100,000 square foot extravaganza of everything Christmas. But Florida? All in all, Bronner’s has over 60 billboards in seven different states.

Like Wall Drug in South Dakota and Ruby Falls in Tennessee, Bronner’s uses billboards for two reasons. Advertising is only one of them.

When you see a billboard in Florida for a store in Michigan, your first thought is this is no ordinary store. You would be right. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a Disney billboard near Frankenmuth, MI because Disney is a destination. Bronner’s put a billboard near Disney for the same reason. They believe they are a destination.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money (and courage) to put up billboards like that across the landscape. Plus, you have to be able to deliver when people follow the signs to your place. After seeing what felt like 543 signs for Mitchell’s Corn Palace while driving across South Dakota, I took the family on a detour to a tourist trap from hell. Wall Drug was actually a relief from the corn.

Billboards work well for reaching a lot of people. You don’t have to be on the highway in another state for them to be effective. Since we are creatures of habit, a well-placed billboard not only will reach a lot of eyeballs, it will be seen multiple times by the same people. Remember, frequency is a good thing.

The downside to billboard advertising is two-fold.

First, they are a passive media. You have to get people to look. In today’s distracted driving where even the passengers are looking down at their phones, getting anyone to look at your billboard can be a challenge.

Second, you only get about two seconds to make an impression. That’s one simple picture and six-to-eight easy-to-read words.

Can you tell a heartfelt, emotional story to your tribe in one attention-grabbing picture and six words? If you can, billboards are one of the best bangs for the buck for reaching a lot of people with a high frequency. One well-placed sign can move the needle. Buy as many signs as the budget allows and change out your boards at least once a month. (Or more, if they’ll let you. Even the good billboards lose effectiveness after about 2-3 weeks because they become familiar and blend into the background.)

If you can’t tell a heartfelt, emotional story to your tribe in one picture and six words, you’ve just added another boring, bland, meaningless blot to the mundane landscape everyone is already ignoring.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Pro Tip #1: When you create your billboard on your computer, it looks awesome. Before you submit that to your ad rep, print it on a letter-sized piece of paper and post it on the wall across the room. Does it still look good? Is it easy to read? Is the picture obvious? Computer screens distort what we see.

PPS Pro Tip #2: Your logo isn’t the “one picture”. Bury it deep in the bottom corner of your billboard so that it doesn’t detract from the message. If the message is good enough, they’ll figure out who said it.

PPPS Pro Tip #3: Humor is an emotion. Get people to laugh at your billboard and you may get some viral spreading of the word. Just make sure your humor is tied to the product or service you’re selling.