Outdoor works if you have the World’s Largest Ball of Pre-Chewed Gum.

Otherwise it’s the Kim Kardashian of the media world, a one-trick pony with questionable social value. 

Like anyone, I have a fast food hierarchy for those road trips where the amount of concrete in the rearview mirror is more important than the nutrients in the food I eat.

My personal list is:

  1. Chick-fil-A
  2. Wendy’s
  3. McDonald’s
  4. Burger King (if I’m I the middle of a desert and have run fresh out of worms to eat)

Last week, the fam and I took one of those road trips … from Dayton, Ohio to Sarasota, Florida. More than 2,000 miles round trip.  During the excursion we saw thousands of billboards. Only one earned a dime from me … Chick-fil-A somewhere in Kentucky. It didn’t sway me to WANT the chicken, but it did encourage me to pass a few less-attractive options and wait a few more exits.

So outdoor works, right? Not for the thousands of other boards that I drove by and cannot recall.

Billboards are the Kim Kardashian of the media world, a one-trick pony with questionable social value.

But Eric, Arbitron’s 2009 National In-Car Study says:

  • Americans spend nearly 20 hours in their cars per week and travel more than 200 miles (age 18-34 and 25-54 spend more time than the average)
  • 71% say they look at billboard messages. 37% report looking at billboards each or most times they pass one (A powerful testimony for the use of seatbelts!)
  • Nearly 25% of billboard viewers say they were motivated to visit a particular store that day because of an outdoor ad message, nearly 33% visited a billboard advertiser later that week and nearly 25% said they immediately visited.

The truth is that most research that I’ve seen is paid for by outdoor companies. So, it’s like asking the NRA to provide statistics on gun violence.

Dropped Calls boardPeople do spend a lot of time in their cars, so outdoor “fishes where the fish are.” Drivers do have exposure to billboards. The boards often provide frequency as people tend to trek the same route each day. Most boards are enormous and are hard to miss. But the Cons outweigh the Pros:


  • Expensive: We have one client who has spent roughly $14,100 per month for 16 boards (with paper production and placement)
  • Missed: It reaches drivers while they are (hopefully) distracted by not running someone over
  • Not actionable
  • Limited: To a very specific message (6 words or less is the golden rule)

Keep in mind that, unless you’re sitting in LA, Atlanta or Chicago rush hour traffic, most people don’t look at a billboard for more than 4 seconds. FOUR seconds!!! Imagine buying a 4-second TV or radio spot.

I strongly suggest, if you use outdoor, that you consider transitioning the budget to digital media. By placing web banners instead of ol’ school outdoor, you will be:

  • More demographically and psychographically targeted
  • More interactive and measurable on clicks
  • More impactful with the option of animated artwork
  • A smarter buy without expensive paper production and better cost per impression
  • More versatile as creative can change in minutes

Location: As with anything else, location is everything. Not simply traffic count, but drive the proposed locations to make sure there is no obstruction.

Message: You have 4 seconds, so it goes without saying that you can convey ONLY one message. Make it count. Leverage your image. Make it impactful – the goal should be to get the community talking about it.

Measurement: Use unique URLs and phone numbers so you can justify the spend (or change in direction).


  • If you need brand awareness and have an obscene marketing budget, outdoor may make it to the bottom of the short-list of options. However, few of my community bank or credit union clients find themselves in that fortunate situation.
  • If you have the World’s Largest Ball of Pre-Chewed Gum. Billboards are great directional tools (Like Chick-fil-A in Kentucky). And if you have a destination location – even better.

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