Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 96

Revisiting Combo Signs

With inflation and a troubled economy, many advertisers are trying to economize and one of the best ways to facilitate this is with a “combo” sign framework. In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to review how a “combo” sign can be a blessing in tough times and what the key tips are to make them successful.

Episode 96: Revisiting Combo Signs Transcript

I will never forget the first time I saw two advertisers on one sign. I thought I had unlocked the key to success, the thing that would protect me from renting ad space in both good times and bad. I was very excited about it. And over the years I learned that combo advertising is a magical ingredient to keeping all your signs full. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about combo ads and we're revisiting the topic. I talked about this years ago on the podcast, but just recently I've noticed more of them popping up. And I thought it was important for people to understand what this magical concept is and how to do it properly. So when you do a combo ad, instead of having one advertiser on the sign, of course you have two or more. That's why we call it combo.

It's two people combining their budgets together to purchase the sign. So if the sign was renting for $800 a month and the advertiser cannot afford 800, let's say they can afford 400. So they and another advertiser who also chips in their 400 together, they rent the sign. And of course, the beauty of this is it allows you, when you have advertisers with limited budgets to share, to pool their resources, to rent the billboard. And that's a terrific thing, particularly when times are tough and you don't have to stop at just two. You could have three, you could have four, you could have any number of advertisers who all share the cost, and that makes renting those signs so much easier. But are there any problems with doing combo ads? Yes. The problems mirror the benefits, and that is for sign to work for the advertiser in a combo, it, has to work, it has to sell things, it has to bring in customers, it has to bring in more money than it costs.

And here's some of the things I learned over the years that you must do on a combo ad to make it work. The first thing is that the two advertisers have to share a common exit. It never works when they don't. You can't take the sign and cut it in half because as you read from left to right, the information on the left side contradicts that on the right. So you can't really remember or respond to any of it. You could not have, for example, on the left hand side, a brake shop in the right hand side, Kentucky Fried Chicken, because it would read when you read the copy left to right, it would mix brake shop lingo in with fast food lingo. It would not only be very confusing, it wouldn't be very appetizing. So instead, both advertisers, or if there's more than two, than however many, they must share a common exit.

That way we can at least have one thing reading left to right that everyone can grasp. So maybe it says exit number 30, maybe it says Exit BeltLine Road. Great, we've got that established. Now we know where the advertiser is. So the consumer knows what action they're supposed to take. When they see the ad, they're supposed to exit, exit number 30, exit beltline road. Then we chop whatever is left above that exit line into the proportional amount that each person is doing. So if we've got two people on there that we're going to have two advertisers side by side. If we gotta have three, we're gonna have three side by side. And for the most part, when you have multiple advertisers on the sign, you can't have a lot of verbiage. So it's mostly gonna be their logo and then maybe one additional item.

For example, if it's McDonald's, it might feature their biggest selling item with that McDonald's, maybe it's the value meal, maybe it's the breakfast, I don't know what, egg sandwich. And then let's say the other advertiser there is Cracker Barrel. So now we've got McDonald's, the fast food restaurant versus Cracker Barrel, the sit down restaurant, they don't really compete with each other. You're either gonna buy a quick breakfast for a few bucks or a much longer breakfast for a whole lot more money at Cracker Barrel. But the good news is the motorist can understand it. They can read it, it registers. Now, another thing I found from doing combo ads successfully is the backgrounds obviously have to be completely different on the three ads. One ad would have to be a light background with dark lettering, and the other one, a dark background with light lettering. Otherwise, your eye just can't comprehend it. You can see that vertical stroke separation between them, but you mentally can't come to that conclusion.

Another thing you have to do on them is remember, you can have too many advertisers. That was a great flaw I made early in my career when I rented a single side to 50 different advertisers in downtown Denton, Texas. The problem was the collections. I had to then produce 50 invoices every month. I had to try and collect $20 each from those 50 different individuals. Sure, I was renting $1,000 a month on the sign, but I had to go around and pick it up in little $20 pieces. I would try and limit your combo to know more than probably three. And at the most four advertisers, I think anything beyond that becomes cumbersome. But the bottom line is that combo advertising is very, very smart, very strategic. It dates way back, they were doing combo advertisements all the way back in the 1920s when on that old Farm to Market highway, the old wooden billboard offered people to go into downtown. And times were tough. It was the Great Depression. People couldn't afford a lot, and the billboards still stood with multiple tenants on them. It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of or something you should not definitely explore because in many markets and in any kind of economy, if you can't rent the signage, just one individual business, the odds are you certainly can if you go to two or more. This is Frank Rolfe, Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.