I’ve seen thousands of billboards, yet I rarely see them done right.
Billboard design requires the ability to “connect” with drivers, who are A) going 70+ MPH, and B) have dozens of other billboards to look at, besides yours. Knowing this, your message should be immediate, succinct, and leave the driver with a tangible thought about your product. Your billboard has about a half second window with which the driver will actually look at your message, and then look onto the next billboard message. That’s not a lot of time, so you have to get right to the point, and provide something memorable.
Too often designers treat billboards like print ads in magazines or newspapers, where the reader has time to absorb all the details of the ad. These designers will fill their billboards with loads of information – trying to cram every last detail about their product or company into the rectangular dimensions. They figure they’re paying for the space, so why not get as much information up there as possible?
This kind of thinking leads to bad billboard designs that serve no purpose than to take up the space they reside in. Drivers quickly glance from billboard to billboard, looking for something that leaves them with a message, an idea. They want to be humored and entertained while they drive. They want something quick, and easy to understand. They don’t want your company’s phone and fax number, street address, and a picture of some random person smiling because, perhaps they’ve used your “excellent” service and loved it – but it’s too damn bad, because the driver has already moved onto five other billboards by the time it would take them to read just the area code of your phone number posted on the billboard.
And it’s not that they don’t want your company’s phone number – it’s that they can’t possibly remember all that while driving 70+ MPH, and being bombarded by other billboard ads simultaneously! How is someone, who is supposed to be paying attention to the road, supposed to A) Look at your message, and B) Remember details such as phone numbers? They can’t stop and write things down, so how are they possibly going to remember such mundane information?
They won’t! Simple as that.
Billboard designers take for granted that drivers even look at billboards. Billboards are distractions, after all. So, knowing that drivers are already taking their eyes off the road, and endangering their lives to look at your ad, what makes you think that they have any longer than a split-second to absorb and remember your ad details?
Details vs. The Message
Billboard design is not about the details that you cram into the ad. It’s about the message you leave with those who look at it. Don’t confuse the message with the details. They are two entirely separate things.
The message is a word or phrase that strikes meaning and purpose to those who read it. Perhaps it’s a pun, or a word that stands out. The message should leave viewers amused, informed, entertained, or otherwise appreciative of your product or service.
The details are things like phone numbers, website addresses, product descriptions, etc. These are all unimportant (and forgettable!) aspects of billboards. So, just leave them out.
The only way details are acceptable is if they are part of the message itself, such as using the website address as the sole text appearing in the ad.
Bad billboard designs
Here’s a few examples of bad billboard designs.
This could make a great magazine or newspaper ad, but it sucks as a billboard. I count 30 separate words, as well as a phone number, and website address. How is anyone driving 70 MPH going to read (and more importantly – remember) any of that? They could cover up 90% of the text in this ad, and it could instantly become more effective, without any re-creation required.
There is so much information on this billboard, I don’t even know where to look initially. I have less than a second as a driver, and looking at this message is like looking at a bunch of jumbled words with no meaning. This ad is all details, and no message. Forgotten.
Again, way too much information and details. The text is unreadable while driving 70 MPH, and the two women in the center do absolutely nothing for this billboards’ message, of which there is none.
Good billboard designs
Here’s a few examples of good billboard designs.
Notice the size of the word “history” in the above ad. Big, bold, easily noticeable, even while driving 70 MPH. Even if you don’t read the rest of the message on the billboard, you still know immediately what the ad is about – there’s a picture of Obama, and the word “History.” Already you have the gist of the ad.
The above billboard is not only designed well – by providing a short, immediate message – it gains added value by creatively using the billboards’ own lighting system to make the point absolutely clear.
Nothing screams “image” more than this company, and their billboards reflect that simplicity and recognition.
Snickers understands the split-second drivers have to look at billboards, by providing a quick “play on words,” wrapped in Snickers branding – a perfect combination.