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Billboard Monthly

June, 1st 2012

How To Properly Put Together A “Combo” Advertisement

With the U.S. recession raging on, many advertisers are looking for less expensive ways to reach their customers. And billboards offer a great way to meet this demand without sacrificing one penny of profitability. The solution is known as the “combo” ad, and has been popular for over 100 years. But there’s a right way, and a wrong way, to do it.

What is a “combo” ad?

A “combo” ad is when you split a billboard between two or more advertisers, thereby reducing the monthly rate to the advertiser by 50% or more. However, the billboard company maintains the same rate, as it has just split the cost between advertisers. This is a win/win solution to situations where a billboard is more than just one advertiser can afford.

Who should share a billboard?

While there are no laws about it, matching the advertisers is one of the most important initial steps to a successful combo ad. The correct pairing should be two advertisers who are not competitive, but share a common interest in the type of advertiser they reach. The best example of this is a gas station and a fast-food restaurant. They both want to reach the consumer going down the highway, and exit them to buy their product. Only they are not competitive – one’s selling gas and one’s selling food. Of course, there is some overlap (the gas station also sells snacks) but people are fee to make their choices. The important item is that they are a perfect long-term match of common interests.

Who should not share a billboard?

Just as some pairings are perfect, others are doomed to failure. Advertisers who are in the same line of work – for example, two restaurants – will be unhappy together. Also, advertisers who are awkward when combined – such as a restaurant and a funeral home – are a bad idea. It should not be that hard to determine who is the right mate. Think about which advertisers could share ideas without competitive concerns; those are the type that should advertise together.

The most important common trait.

More than anything else, the one common trait that all successful combo advertisers share is … a common exit. That’s right, a common exit line is the most important criteria for success. Why is that? Because a combo ad falls apart when you have two competing directional messages. If you have a single line running the length of the sign saying “EXIT #150, THEN LEFT”, then it’s easy to remember and leaves you plenty of room for the rest of the advertisement. But when two advertisers do not share the same directional information, the result is too complicated for any motorist to digest, and leaves the billboard a total failure.

Why stop at two?

If you can build a successful combo billboard out of two advertisers, why not three or more? There’s no reason why you can’t. Look at the most successful combo billboards on the highway today – those of the State Highway Department Logo Sign Program. You know, those signs at every exit that tell you what businesses are there. They allow six advertisers per sign. And the concept is the same – a common exit sign and advertisers that share a common purpose. I have done combinations of as many as fifty (I did a billboard for all the merchants in downtown Denton), and it works as long as they are geographically side-by-side. But it’s important to realize that, at a certain point, there are two many logos and you can’t visually see anything. I’ve found the best combo signs to be either two or three advertisers who share a common exit.

Look at it from the advertisers’ perspective.

If a sign costs $1,000 per month, it’s a whole lot more attractive at $500 when you split it. And the advertiser is not really sacrificing much. It still gets the directional and builds the awareness that it’s there. So you’re going to get a happier client who is more likely to stay on board for years to come. In fact, one of the key considerations on any billboard is longevity – will the client renew year after year? Combo signs have just as good – or better – a shot at being there for the long term, because you have reduced their rate down so much.

Other considerations.

We have found that the best way to divide up a combo sign is two identical-sized boxes, side-by-side, with a common exit line running the width of the sign face. We have tried other ways, such as splitting the boxes horizontally, but it tends to favor one advertiser over the other. If the ad is split three ways, then we divide the space into three equal boxes side-to-side, with a common exit line. It is also important to use a variation of contrast, making one box background dark, while the other is light. This helps the viewer visually see the fact that there are multiple advertisers at that exit.


If you are looking for a win/win way to lower ad rents without lowering your income, then consider combo advertisements. If you use the right strategy, you can create a winning ad that will pull results, and give the advertisers the reduced expense that they crave. In troubled economic times – such as those in the U.S. today – this concept is a real winner.

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Memo From Frank

Summer is a great time to be renting ad space, as many of your top advertisers (motels, restaurants, etc.) have their best sales months of the year in summer. So they understand the value of getting awareness out there of their business. If you have any vacant ad space in inventory, this is your best chance of the year at finding the right tenant for that sign. Be sure and try several different avenues to renting any given sign, not just a phone number up on the billboard. Try out direct mail, cold-calling, and other more intensive efforts. There’s a right advertiser for every billboard out there. It’s up to you to find them.

Now’s the time to get your sales ramped up to 100%, while the sun’s shining.

A Billboard Story

This is a true story, although I’m not giving any information on who told me or the name of the company, but I can tell you that all parties are now deceased. I think it’s an interesting story, as it shows how big companies are not that different from small companies.

Back in the 1960s, there was a rapidly growing billboard company that went on to become a legend. And they went on a huge acquisition spree – which was difficult because they did not have much capital. So they had created an “act” to create seller carry on their transactions. What they did was to sign up a billboard company to buy, and then at closing they would meet with the owner to pay them. When the company owner turned to his accountant to hand over the check, the accountant would tell him that he didn’t have the money, he had spent it on some equipment and other items. The company owner would then pretend to fire him and he would storm out. The company owner would then apologize for what had happened, and would pitch the seller on carrying the paper, as it was the only option. After all the Hollywood drama, the seller would often agree.

Then the two would meet outside – the owner and the “fired” accountant -- and go have dinner.

What Do Billboard Time-Clocks And Picnics Have In Common?

The answer is ants. Nothing seems to attract ants like billboard time-clocks and breaker boxes. Why is that? Some say that the ants are naturally attracted to electricity. Of maybe it’s the only enclosed, shady place in big sunny field. But it’s a huge problem, and one that can be very costly, as the ants can actually disrupt and burn up the time-clock that turns the lights on and off. So what do you do about it? Be sure and spray ant-killer all over the time clock and breaker boxes every time you change the time clock, or at some other regular interval. There are other ant baits that can also be used. Don’t let ants ruin your billboard – or your picnic.

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