Why Most Advertisers Don’t Use Their Billboard Effectively – And How To Fix That

The whole point of renting a billboard is to have a successful ad message. Yet many advertisers fail in this mission. When an ad is not good, it sells nothing, and the advertiser doesn’t renew. It’s basically a wasted opportunity on the part of everyone involved. So what do advertisers do that is wrong and how can you improve on that?

Not good use of the graphics

Back when billboards were hand-painted, the amount and quality of photos and images was strictly limited. Today, however, with vinyl printing the options are endless. And many advertisers are not taking advantage of this technology. The graphics of the sign are a huge part of the message. If you are a car dealer, you need to put up a photo of your best-looking car running across the whole sign face. If you are a restaurant, put a photo of your best meal right up on the sign. Words are great, but pictures tell a much more compelling story.

Letters too small

If you can’t read the words from at least 500’ away from the billboard, then it’s a failure. Most letters must be around 18” or larger to be seen from that distance. So don’t allow small type sizes. Letters must be big. Disclaimers – based on the law – can be tiny, but ad copy must be giant. There’s no bigger failure than a billboard that nobody can read.

Too many words

Studies have found that successful billboards rarely have more than seven words on them. Yet I see signs frequently that have twenty or more. The more words you use, the harder it is to read them, and that detracts from the sign being effective. While ads on your computer, magazine or newspaper give the reader the luxury of reading as much as they want, a car going 55 mph has a narrow window of legibility.

Not compelling message

A billboard is a giant 50’ tall salesman that yells your ad message to every car on the highway. Are you yelling your most compelling message? If you have a restaurant with a giant salad bar, I’d want to feature that prominently in the ad, not just say “salad bar”. It’s a competitive world out there and you have to give it your best shot. Many signs fall short of making you really want to exit.

Poor choice of colors

When it comes to colors, there are two mistakes that advertisers make:

  • You need colors with high levels of contrast. These means a dark color on a light color, or vice versa. The top contrast combinations are black and white, black and yellow, red on white, etc. (you can find a chart of top contrasting colors here).
  • You also need to make sure that the colors in your sign contrast with nature. Billboards are in an outdoor setting, and that means that greens and browns (or any earth tones) are not going to work well as far as garnering attention. That’s why McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A (and almost every other advertiser on signs) has a red logo to contrast against the green backdrop of nature.


Good signs sell product. Signs that sell product make advertisers happy and get renewed year after year. Make sure that your sign has a good ad design on it. Help advertisers to use common sense to produce billboards that will work well for them.

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.