The #1 Outdoor Advertising Mistake

Imagine scoring a perfect billboard location on the side of a high-traffic street, no obstructions, and tons of stop-and-go traffic throughout the day. You've invested in a professional designer - even though it was pricey - you feel it'll be worth it because of all the new customers you'll get from your ad.

You get a call from the outdoor company, telling you the ad has been posted, so you grab your keys and head over to see your beautiful new billboard right away. As you drive, you get that thrilling feeling of excitement, anticipating seeing your logo posted up high for all the world to see, and look forward to the influx of customers your ad is going to bring you.

As you get closer, you start to see your billboard. You start to make out the text in the ad, but you just aren't close enough to see it. You pull off on the side of the road and put on your hazards so you can really get a good look. NOW you can read it. It looks great: really polished and pretty.

So, as long as people can pull off on the side of the road to get a close look, they'll be able to read it.

Um no. I can't tell you how many times I see a primo billboard location with ad copy that's not legible from the street. What a waste! Advertisers will many times pay thousands of dollars to have gorgeous ads designed for their billboards and - while they may be works of art - they don't work.

Ads don't work if people can't read'em.

Moral of the story: When it comes to outdoor advertising, you sometimes have to sacrifice beauty for function (although there really is a way to have both). You've got anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds to get your message across.


  • Text should be right around 3 feet tall, MINIMUM
  • Don't use more than about 7 or 8 words in your message
  • Don't use thin, narrow fonts or those with lots of flourish
  • Avoid using all caps
  • Use lots of contrast

Follow these rules and you'll have an outdoor message that people can read, and you don't lose the entire purpose of your investment. It's important to note that there are plenty of professional designers who are terrible at creating effective ads for outdoor billboards.

Just because you might be paying an arm and a leg for design work, you still need to keep these rules in mind as you review the design concepts. Don't be afraid to take the lead and have the designer start over from scratch, if necessary, to make sure those outdoor creative "rules of thumb" are incorporated.