Pros & Cons of Advertising on Billboards

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Large billboard in the city.
Large billboard in the city. (Image: jorgeantonio/iStock/Getty Images)

Deciding to use billboard advertising to market your business can be a big step, especially if you're a small business or haven't used outdoor advertising before. Like any advertising medium, billboard advertising has its pros and cons -- it's important to understand what these are and how they may affect your company before you commit to investing your advertising budget.

Reach a Bigger Audience

Billboard advertising can have a significantly larger reach than other advertising media. If you place a billboard ad near a highway or busy street, your potential audience is everyone who drives or walks by. Hit a commuter route, and your audience will see your advertisement regularly. This increases your frequency -- the number of times people see your ad -- and may help consolidate your message in the minds of your audience. The size of billboards also gives them a visual impact, making your advertising more noticeable.

Reach a Specific Audience

Typically, you choose billboard locations based on their geographical position. This allows you to target audiences in a specific location and, if you get the right messages on your ads, you can encourage people to act on them. For example, if you own a motel or restaurant near a highway exit, you can run ads on the approach to it. This markets your business to drivers who may need a place to stay or eat. You can also use this kind of advertising to drive people to engage with other elements of your marketing campaigns, such as social media sites and online initiatives.

Get More Bang for Your Buck

Billboards can put your ads in front of a large audience, potentially giving you higher returns at a lower cost. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, outdoor advertising campaigns cost an average of $3.38 to $8.65 per 1,000 impressions, or CPM. Hit the lower number in this range and it'll cost you just over $3 to get your message seen 1,000 times. Other media costs more -- the OAAA estimates that online advertising has a CPM average of $17.50 and broadcast media of up to $25. The OAAA's return on investment figures are $2.80 for every dollar spent on outdoor advertising. This is higher than the returns of TV and print advertising, which come in at $2.43 and $2.41 respectively.

Lack of Targeted Focus

Billboard ads may not be the most effective way to reach a niche audience. Apart from location, you have limited control over who sees your advertising, and your results may be hard to measure. If your target market makes up a just a small part of your overall audience, then you're effectively paying to put a message in front of a few people who might be interested in your products or services and a lot of people who are never going to be interested in what you do.

Start-Up and Maintenance Costs

You may need to commit to a long-term contract to run billboard campaigns; high-performing locations book up in advance and typically come at a premium cost. Even though your returns on investment might be good, your start-up costs may be higher than with other media. For example, you may have to spend more on design and production. Billboards typically work best if you combine short and snappy messages with visual impact -- it may be difficult to factor this into your campaigns effectively without expert help. Plus, if you decide to run with one ad, and it becomes damaged or weathered over time, you must factor in the cost of replacements.

Ad Blindness and Visual Pollution

Over time, regular viewers of your billboard may start to suffer from ad blindness. If this happens, your ad becomes passive rather than active, and your audience may tune it out. You can change your campaigns regularly to keep them fresh, but this adds to your overall cost. Visual pollution may also be a problem. Some communities limit the use of billboards to preserve their local environment. If viewers feel that billboards themselves are a visual pollutant, then they may transfer this negative feeling onto your campaign and your business.

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