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The Outsiders

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If you're a road warrior, a family vacationer, or simply a bored commuter sitting in traffic, you're familiar with billboards. Some are clever, attractive, compelling. Some are dull and uninspired. (Some are so downright bad that you can't believe an agency ever presented them or a client ever bought them. Sheesh!)

According to Statistica, there are currently 342,306 billboards in the U.S. 8,800 of them are digital.

Direct marketers don't get a lot of opportunity to create billboards. Common sense tells us that if you need someone to take action, reaching them while they're behind the wheel of a three-ton moving machine may not be the best time to do so. But, of course, there are exceptions.

If you have an easy to remember (vanity) URL or 800-number, you may get drivers (or backseat drivers) to respond once they're home or at their office. Or, if you're running a lot of related campaigns (direct mail, print or digital ads, TV or radio), a billboard can reinforce the message and offer your audience has already received in arguably more responsive media.

And, of course, if you're trying to drive traffic (no pun intended), a well-placed billboard may be a great option. Restaurants, banks, retailers, recreation and amusement properties are just a few examples that can use engaging graphics, a special offer, and proximity to get people to take a detour or make an unplanned stop.

So when should you consider outdoor advertising? What are the pro's and the con's?

On the upside ...

• Billboards are BIG. They grab attention.
• They're a good choice if you have a quick and simple message.
• They allow you to reach a large and diverse audience.
• They can be geo-targeted.
• You'll have a captive audience. (A driver in traffic can't exactly turn the channel.)
• They are reasonably priced when you look at cost-per-impression.
• They have built-in frequency. Many drivers take the same route — by the same billboards — day after day after day.
• Billboards can make a small business look bigger than it is.

On the downside ...

• Billboards aren't going anywhere. In other words, they can't follow your prospect home. You need creative that encourages RECALL.
• They have to be noticed and absorbed fast. Like 65 mph fast.
• They can't be as targeted as other media.
• They can't be as personalized as other media.
• They have very limited real estate so they can only accommodate a short story. (6-10 words are best.)
• Billboards may be obscured by construction, roadwork, tractor-trailers, or even weather.

All that said, there's still a place for outdoor advertising in many marketing plans — even direct marketing ones. According to a driving survey, the average person in the U.S. spends 20 hours a week (or 200 miles) in their car. And, according to an Arbitron study:

• 71% consciously look at billboards.
• 37% look at every billboard they pass.
• 58% report that they learned about an event or restaurant from a billboard.
• 56% talk about billboars they think are funny. (Remember, word-of-mouth is priceless!)

And, good news, for direct marketers:

• 26% took note of a phone number AND
• 28% took note of a URL.

So, the next time you're putting together a plan, remember that billboards may not be such outsiders after all.

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