How To Design A Successful Billboard Ad

A billboard is of no value unless it sells the advertiser’s goods or services – and it’s simple to do. In this video Frank walks you through the basics, using a billboard ad from 70 years ago as a template and then shows you how to use the same strategies today. As you’ll see, there’s a methodology to creating good ad copy – it’s not just random.

How To Design A Successful Billboard Ad - Transcript

Hi, I am Frank Rolfe. This is a piece of artwork from a billboard that's about 70 years old. This is for a restaurant called The Dairy Palace from about the 1950s. And in all these years, in 70 years, nothing has really changed as far as doing correct billboard artwork. But what they did right here by hand 70 years ago, is almost identical to what you would wanna do again today. Although you produce it on a computer and you've printed on vinyl, this was actually drawn by hand and then painted by hand up on the billboard. So let's dissect what we have going on here to show you how this is just what you need to be doing today, although it has been so many decades later. First off, you'll notice, let's start with the colors. Now, this advertiser's colors the Dairy Palace was yellow and red. Now why would that be? Why would it be yellow and red of all colors? Well, if you google up, you'll see there's a published list of the colors that have the greatest contrast. And in that list you'll see the top colors are black and yellow and black and white and red and white and red and yellow. Bingo.

So in the top four you've got his logo. That's why he selected those colors. And that's also why you have down here, this old Shell station logo. Also red and yellow. It was completely by design. It wasn't random luck. That's why you see so many American logos, they're utilizing the colors of red and white or red and yellow, McDonald's, Arby's, Taco Bell. The list is nearly endless. Now, you'll also notice that the rest of the sign is in a very dark blue. Why is that? It goes right back to that same color chart, white on dark blue comes in and I think in the number six position. So the contrast, the choice of colors is very important because when you're driving down the highway, you have to be able to read this stuff quickly. You're going 55 to, let's be honest, 75, 80 miles an hour. You don't have a lot of time to really stare at the sign. So you have to be able to read it very, very fast. Now what else do we notice? We notice the size of the words. The words are pretty big. There's not a lot of them. They're all pretty big. If you start putting lots of words on a sign that are really small, no one can read them. And that's a problem obviously.

Because if you can't read the sign, the sign has no purpose. So we've got a few really large words. Now, what are those really large words? Well, the advertiser here has tried to distill down their key points of information that make people go to this combination restaurant and gas station. Obviously, open 24 hours is the big one because when you're driving down the road and you're hungry, you're driving down the road and you're out of gas, you want to know whether there's any point in pulling off, because if they're only open until 10:00 or midnight, and it's two in the morning, why even bother to exit? But so they want to hammer home, they're open 24 hours a day, they're always open. So that was the biggest item to this business. Next, country breakfast, you can see that's just about as dominant. Why is that? Because apparently a lot of people driving late at night, that's one reason IHOPs exist. People like to eat breakfast bacon and eggs pretty much all day long. And so they wanna let you know they have an open 24 hours country breakfast. So that is their number one draw in their opinion. And then down here, much smaller, however, super clean restrooms, because they don't figure that is being as big a draw as a country breakfast or the open 24 hours.

Now, if the advertiser said, no, wait, my big deal out there is the super clean restrooms you put across here in giant letters. This big, super clean restrooms. But that was not the case for this business. So that's how they ranked these in order. It was created by the dominance, the size of the letters. And so that's what they want you to read first. If you could read nothing else as you're driving down the road, other than open 24 hours Dairy Palace or open 24 hours Shell Gasoline. That's the message they wanted to reach people with. Then you drop down to your exit line, turn right at Highway 19, then one mile. Now, what's going on here? We all know that the most powerful thing about a billboard is it's a point of purchase advertising type. So unlike everything else out there, internet, newspaper, radio, magazine, it doesn't matter. You reach people generically. You say things like McDonald's, we have a tasty burger, but it doesn't tell you where is the burger. You have to search that out maybe on your cell phone. So here they're utilizing the sign's number one attraction, which is it can tell drivers to get off, get off at Highway 19, the Highway 19 exit. And what do I do when I get off there? I turn right.

And then how far do I go? I go one mile to get there. Now, how could this sign have been any better? Well, there's one obvious flaw this sign has, it could have made it better if they put a big arrow here to let you know you need to turn right. Right? That's the whole deal. So if you were doing this again today, I think you'd have a big arrow here with a big point here saying, turn right at highway 19, then one mile perhaps in the arrow. So I don't know why they left that off. That would've been a definite improvement. But beyond that, I can't really see anything else here they screwed up. Now, you'll notice they also do this interesting pinstriping thing all the way around the side. Now, why do they do that? They wanted to give it a little extra class, make it a little... Look a little different. So there's nothing wrong with those kinds of little stylistic elements. It didn't take up hardly any of the sign, just a tiny little smidge of the sign. And you can even have that border half that width and it would still work out, any other decorative touches they did? Yeah, they did this drop shadow under the open 24 hours and under the turn right at Highway 19. Now, why did they do that?

Because again, they wanted to emphasize that, that's the most important thing to this business. So if I was starting from scratch. So now I'm gonna go ahead and let's say you were to do this from scratch. So what do you do? Well, you go to the advertiser. You draw your rectangle for the sign. Now, let's assume now it's not just The Dairy Palace, but you've got some other kind of business going on here. Let's say it's... Let's just say it's a McDonald's. You'd do the same thing. You'd have the giant McDonald's logo here. You would have the... Their McDonald's logo thing going on here, you would have the exit here. Let's say the exit is exit number 35. Right? And then you'd have whatever the number one product that this advertiser has that makes people wanna go there. And in the case of McDonald's, what would it be? If you say to McDonald's owner, what is your number one selling meal? And he says the Happy Meal. Well, then I'd put a picture of a Happy Meal here and I put Happy Meals. Again what have I done? I have followed the same narrative as we did a moment ago with Dairy Palace. Big words, simplistic, easy to read, color choice, in this case, with McDonald's, you already know what that would be. It would be red and yellow.

The arrow would probably be white lettering on a black background. The bottom line to all this is that the way to make billboards work has not changed much in nearly a century or more. It's always the same. So when you're looking at who is the number one potential user of any sign, it's gonna be someone who is nearby, where you can use an exit description, whether it's this exit, the next exit, or just exit number whatever, that's always very important. Also, most successful advertisers are ones who can distill their message down into only a few words. If you have an advertiser who wants to have this long description of what they do, they won't work on a billboard. It might work in a magazine or somewhere where you have a static reader who can read a hundred words. But on a billboard where you're moving fast, you have to keep it simple. This is Frank Rolfe, I just wanna give you an idea of the historical perspective, all the way up to current of the correct way to design a billboard advertisement.