What Is Outdoor Advertising?

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Many people think outdoor advertising is synonymous with billboards -- the super-sized, elevated boards with succinct messages that have lined highways for decades. But billboards are only one type of outdoor advertising, also called "Out of Home" advertising. Categories include billboards, transit, street furniture and alternative media. Basically, any message that encourages sales and isn't indoors is considered outdoor advertising.

Tip

  • According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, people spend 70 percent of their waking hours out of their homes, making outdoor advertising the ideal way to reach them.

Billboards Go High Tech

Not all billboards are the traditional size seen on interstates. While super sizes may take up the entire side of a building, they are sold in smaller sizes, too. Billboards are most effective when placed near the business they're advertising. Digital billboards are becoming increasingly more common. Technology allows aspects of a billboard -- such as numbers -- to change, thereby staying updated. Or the entire billboard may change to another advertiser. The pros and cons remain the same, however. Billboards can make a large, creative impact, but viewers have a very limited amount of time to read and understand the message. Therefore, the most effective billboards are easy to read and understand quickly.

Tip

  • Billboards should contain seven words or less -- that's the most people can be expected to read in a few seconds.

Messages on the Move

Advertising on buses, trolleys, trains, cable cars, taxis and other vehicles are called transit ads. Their sizes are standard nationwide, making it possible to print messages in large quantities. These, too, are increasingly becoming digital. Vehicle wrapping allows companies to make a big statement on their own trucks and vans with unique graphics and messages. The appeal of transit ads is the coverage achieved as the vehicle moves; placing appropriate messages on specific routes can target particular audiences.

Tip

  • Ads on the inside of buses, trolleys, subways and taxis also fall into this category because they are outside the home, in transit vehicles.

Flashes on Furnishings

Advertising on outdoor furniture goes far beyond a company's name and address on the back of a bench. Transit waiting enclosures, free-standing maps, outdoor kiosks and newsstands can carry messages that are specially lighted, highlighted, fade in and out, flash and change from one to another -- any technique that brings attention to a stationary piece that might otherwise be overlooked as people hurry by. The secret to advertising this way is to place ads strategically near the store or business they're advertising so people see the ad and walk right in.

The Sky's the Limit

All other types of outdoor advertising that don't fall into the other categories are called alternative media, from aerial banners and skywriting to banners unfurled on buildings announcing upcoming events. Out of home advertising gets more creative every day, with advertisers finding increasingly unusual niches on which to place their sales messages. Pizza boxes have gone from generic lids to formats for coupons and related ads. All places where people wait in line have become ideal outlets for advertising messages -- from theater box offices to ski lifts. Out of home displays can even send mobile ads directly to the cell phones of people passing by. This category will continue to evolve and grow as advertisers find innovative methods of reaching people on the move.

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