Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 91

How Small Is Too Small?

Most people think of billboards as being big, but sometimes they come in a smaller sizes. When buying or building a billboard, when do you hit a level in which the sign has no economic value? And how do you rent signs that are smaller than their competitors? In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to explore how to apply science to the issue of smaller signs.

Episode 91: How Small Is Too Small? Transcript

We all think of billboards as being big, really big, giant salesmen that scream out the name of your product 24 hours a day to passing motorists. But not all billboards are large. Sometimes billboards are tiny. And when billboards are tiny, how do you evaluate when a billboard becomes so small it's not of any value? This is Frank Rolfe, The Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're going to gonna talk about dealing with small signs. Now, why would a billboard be small? What's going on there? Well, sometimes they're small because city ordinance dictates that they be small. And then other times there are older signs that were built at a time when people didn't have a whole lot of money. And so with not a lot of capital, they just built them as various small signs. Also, you have issues sometimes in some states and places where the entire state ordinance requires the signs to be a little smaller than they want be in other states.

So smallness is an attribute of some billboards. But when is it a problem? When can you not make any money with a small sign? Well, let's first define what being a small billboard means. Remember that a billboard, to be effective, you have to be able to read what's on it. And a billboard that is so small that you cannot build letters big enough to be visible from the highway is an immediate problem. We know from science that typically letters must be at least two to three feet tall to be legible on a billboard from about 500 feet away. So on that small sign, assuming you have at least two lines of copy, then that means it would have to be at least four to six feet or more tall as far as the ad face face goes, so that you could have two lines of copy on it and be read.

Now, another aspect we know about the small sign is that the smaller it is, the fewer letters you can have, the fewer words you can create. So how exactly then does that work? Well, you're going to gonna have to match that sign with an advertiser who can get their message done in very close quarters. So once again, the small sign is not helping you at all. It's not helping you in copy size, nor is it helping you on number of words that you can have. But when is too small, too small? Well, if the sign was a 4 by 8 four by eight sheet of plywood, for example, you could have theoretically two lines of copy with little space between them. Let's instead make it say it's gotta be at least five feet high. So would a 5 by 10 sheet of plywood be an effective sign? Well, that's the size of eight sheets. Those eight sheet signs you've see in a lot of metro area downtowns, those are about... That's how big they are and they seemingly work. But of course, what's an issue then is how far back do you see them? The eight sheet sign can be read because it's typically about 20 feet off the street. But your average billboard along the highway is in fact instead 50 to 100 feet off.

So at what point the sign becomes of no value is going to typically hinge on what you can do with the ad copy. And when you look at a lot of small signs, you'll see that the way people get around often the inability to put big words or many words on there is they just put their logo. So on small signs to be effective, probably the number one user are people like McDonald's, Arby's, Jack in the Box, people who have a very recognizable logo and they just put the logo on the scientifically in an arrow or the logo on their end, and an exit number. Now, if you can make that happen, if you can find a location, if you can do a deal with McDonald's at exit number 40 and put on there the McDonald's logo in the words exit number 40, that could be a pretty effective sign.

So suddenly that little, small sign with so few words on it is still paying for itself 'cause it's directing people off at that exit. But if you had an advertiser who has to use a lot of words on the sign, some kind of personal injury lawyer, you probably couldn't even get the name of the personal injury lawyer on the sign until you'd already run outta room. And you probably couldn't get the personal injury lawyer's firm name on their end, the phone number even, and get it all fit on the sign. So in that case, the type of advertiser has something to do with the effectiveness of the small sign. Another issue with small signs is they're really, really hard to rent when everything else around you is large. If everyone else has a sign that's 14 by 48 feet in size and yours is a little 8 by 12 thing, it's going to gonna be really hard 'cause it looks so insignificant by comparison.

So sometimes the size of the other signs has bearing on whether a small sign can work or not. I was once able to get a permit on the only sign in an area east of Dallas. The city had this strange, strange ordinance. They didn't want to have any signs. So they set parameters they thought no one could ever meet. Very, very tiny sign and on very, very hard to find zoning. And they thought when they wrote the ordinance that not a single thing applied. And behold, I was able to find the one track that did. The one track that not only had the correct zoning, but all the other radiuses, they had to be from churches and schools and exit ramps and entrance ramps and everything else known to man. And suddenly, that did the trick. And that became a very, very valuable sign for me.

But you would've never thought that to be the case on the front end. And if other people have been able to build signs there, it would've really hurt. But because I was the only sign in the entire city, even though it was small, it got attention. So now we have another feature of small signs, and that is exclusivity. How many there are? Because when there's not as many signs out there that signs sounds more valuable. So the bottom line to it all is that small signs, whether they are good or bad, is often going to be rated simply on so many different features that you can't just make a simple determination. You can't just say, "Ah. Well the sign of this size is no good." There's too many different permutations to it. So when you're looking at billboards to buy or to build, you have to look at the overall package. You can't simply say that all small signs are bad because all small signs are not bad. Often those small signs can be valuable, can be good income properties, but you have to look at the overall picture. This is Frank Rolfe, The Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.