The Incorrect Assumption On Billboard Height

When I first got in the billboard business, I assumed that the taller the sign, the better the sign. When I was driving down the interstate and I saw a really tall billboard, I would think to myself “now there’s a valuable sign”.

I used to compare my signs to others by saying “my sign’s the tallest and, therefore, is the best”. Unfortunately, that’s a bad mindset and I messed up some great opportunities in my quest for being the “tallest”.

The whole point to a billboard, from the advertiser’s perspective (and they are the boss in reality), is for the billboard to have maximum visibility of their ad message. The easier and longer the traffic can read the ad message, the better.

Being real tall doesn’t often get this job done.

Tall signs actually reduce the ability to read the advertiser’s message for two key reasons:

    •    A sign that is twice the height of the other signs creates a reduction of the apparent size of the ad message by a huge percentage. It’s just math – the farther away something is, the smaller it appears. In Houston, for example, where signs can easily be over 100’ to the bottom of the ad message, giant 14’ x 48’ bulletins look like 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood. The average driver in Houston will have trouble believing that the ad on top of a 100’ monopole is the same size as that on a 30’ monopole – it looks like about 50%.

    •    Tall signs go out of your field of vision quickly, and so you cannot read the message very long and certainly not from a distance where the copy is legible. Just as the traffic can begin to read the exit, the sign goes out the “top” of their windshield and so they move on to the next ad message. Now, you may argue that they can see the tall sign from farther back, as it stands majestically above the trees and other obstructions, and that is true, but you can’t read the copy except for the largest words, so you don’t really even know what they are selling. Unless the advertiser’s message is “Wendy’s Exit Now”, the value of the copy is great impaired.

I learned this lesson the hard way on my colossal 120’ high 20’ x 60’ monopole in Dallas. I was so proud of building one of the largest signs in the city that I never bother to think of what the appropriate height would be – only what the tallest I could afford was.

As a result, instead of a dominant giant 20’ x 60’ ad face dwarfing a sea of 14’ x 48’ ad faces, instead I had what looked like a 14’ x 48’ on steroids. The mega height made the ad face look no larger than the surrounding signs, and it also made the sign hard to read except from a large distance – the sign was already out of your field of vision, out of the top of your windshield, from about 1,000’ away.

Tallest may be important in basketball, but in sign world, it’s often a misunderstood negative!

Frank Rolfe started his billboard company off of his coffee table, immediately after graduating from college. Although he had no formal training on the industry, he learned as he went, and developed his own unique systems to accomplish things, such as renting advertising space. Frank was formerly the largest private owner of billboards in Dallas/Ft. Worth, as well as a major player in the Los Angeles market.