Creative execution is absolutely the most important element in the performance of an out-of-home advertising campaign.
According to numerous studies, including this Nielsen report, quality creative means significantly more to effective OOH than any other factor. At SMG, we work tirelessly to place our signs at the best locations throughout the city. Our Account Executives can help guide you toward the perfect product type and locations to promote your business, targeting the right demographics, traffic counts, reach, frequency, DEC’s, illumination, etc. But none of that will matter if your design stinks.
As an in-house graphic artist designing for the out-of-home industry since 2007, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of brilliant advertising campaigns. From savvy creative agencies composing jaw-dropping visuals for global corporations with the deepest of pockets, to the local mom and pop on a shoestring budget and a creative tag line, outdoor advertising is a medium suited for all who are willing to embrace it’s proven practices. Luckily, following just a few basic design guidelines can give your OOH campaign a great chance to be successful. And to be honest, it’s really not that complicated. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to need a professional designer to help collaborate and execute your vision, as well as provide appropriate deliverables to the appropriate parties. But you don’t need a master’s degree in commercial art to know what makes an OOH design effective. Stick to these basic guidelines and you’ll see just how powerful the outdoor medium can be.
Embrace OOH’s Purpose
The first and most important point is to embrace the true purpose of outdoor advertising: Attract attention and make your point, QUICKLY.
Remember, our audience is literally on the go, in their vehicles commuting throughout the marketplace. We have the advantage of reaching massive numbers of consumers every day while they’re in a position to spend. The challenge is making enough of a visual impact to earn their glance, then convey our point in a brief window of viewing time. OOH’s purpose is NOT to tell your whole story, or explain to the world all of the incredible goods and services you provide, plus your store hours and proximity to the local grocery store, or how long your business has been an important part of the community, in addition to that really inspirational quote you like to include in your email signature. Our job is to plant the seed. Make your point, identify yourself, and call the audience to action. This brings us to the next key…
Determine Your ONE MAIN POINT
You have two to three seconds to be in front of thousands of consumers, so first impressions are crucial. Deciding exactly how you’re going to use that time will make a big impact on your campaign. Determine the most important point you need to make, then fully commit to displaying it clearly.
Limit your word count as much as possible. We recommend no more than ten words total, which includes your brand identity and call to action. Attempting to absorb more than one message on a billboard is the like trying to understand the guy with the wicked-fast voice spewing all the legal jargon at the end of all those radio commercials. Don’t be that guy.
Imagery Matters BIG
Image selection can make or break the outcome of an entire OOH campaign. At SMG, we use bold, dynamic imagery to attract attention. Earning the viewers’ glance allows us to then promote the message.
Try to avoid intricate images that include a lot of elements and detail. Too much visual information is difficult to comprehend in a short viewing window. Zero in on a strong, recognizable feature instead of a busy image. For example, zoom in on an elegant faucet to promote your kitchen remodeling service, instead of showing the entire kitchen scene staged with numerous appliances, lights, plants, decor, etc. Also, don’t be afraid to crop boldly. Human faces are one of the most effective visuals to attract attention, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the audience needs to see the tip top of your model’s head!
Identify Yourself Clearly
What good is a well-executed message without clearly identifying yourself to the viewer? Use elements from your brand to help create recognition within the design, like colors and logos. And commit a healthy amount of space in your ad to identify yourself.
Make absolutely sure that your audience knows exactly who you are and how they can take the next step. Building brand recognition is one of OOH’s most powerful strengths, so take full advantage.
Call to Action
You’ve effectively attracted attention, made your point, and identified yourself. So far so good! Now what? Remember to leave the viewer with a clear direction about what action to take. This could be as simple as an arrow pointing in the direction of your storefront, or including the cross streets for your location. After all, directional advertising is also one of OOH’s most effective benefits.
Outside of the directional option, one of our most popular calls to action is featuring a website. The internet is the perfect place for the world to learn ALL of the details about your business. If our sign can drive viewers to your website, they’re that much closer to spending their money with you. And that means we’ve done our job!
However, it’s important to be mindful about your call to action. Resist the urge to include a physical location, and a web address, and a Facebook url, and a phone number, etc. Remember, in OOH less is more. Choose the option that is easiest and most effective for the viewer. This is why I generally recommend a web address instead of a phone number. It’s typically easier for the audience to use the internet to find your business, than to remember a random ten digit phone number.
Careful with Color
One of the most common questions I get from clients is “What colors work best for billboards?”. I’ve read countless articles that cite various scientific studies proving the most effective colors for OOH. Regardless of the results, all of these studies have one thing in common: Contrast. Strong visual contrast between the different colors in your design will make more of a difference in the effectiveness of your ad than the specific colors.
Going back to point #3, we typically recommend using color from your brand to help build recognition. If your brand colors don’t contrast strongly, choose one of your main colors in combination with either black or white.
Easy on the Fonts
One of the most common mistakes we see in OOH design is the wrong typeface selection. The most effective options for the OOH medium are bold, sans-serif fonts.
If your logo or brand features an elegant flowing typeface, you will definitely want to consider something more bold and strong for your OOH campaign. Remember, we’re trying to convey a strong message from a distance very quickly. Your viewers simply won’t have the opportunity to appreciate the beautifully whimsical font that looks incredible on your business cards. As a graphic artist, one of my greatest fascinations is the world of typography. As a husband, I understand that the world of typography isn’t exactly the most exciting subject for most. So I’ll spare you the scientific details. Trust me on this, when it comes to font selection for OOH design, go bold or go home.
Don’t Overthink It
We all have a tendency to get in our own way at times, overcomplicating things unnecessarily. I’m certainly guilty. But when it comes to OOH, the straightforward approach is usually best. Create something that the viewer can automatically comprehend and absorb effortlessly. If the creative process is becoming complicated, the artwork will likely have a similar effect on your viewers.
And beware of excessive design opinions . We have absolutely no doubts about the marketing qualifications of your significant other, or every single member of your staff, or even your hacker nephew with the sarcastic disposition and trendy lensless frames. But expecting a design to satisfy all of these people is a recipe for disappointment. Trust the direction of your OOH design pro. Focus on your main point, keep things simple, and don’t overthink it.
So there you have it. Everything you need to know about creating the perfect OOH ad design, virtually guaranteeing a healthy bump to your bottom line. Wow, that was invigorating, I feel great! Except I’ve left out one very important point. You can skip all of this and leave it to me. Here at StreetMedia Group, we believe so deeply in the importance of well-executed OOH design, we include professional design services with each and every contract. The best part, it’s FREE. Why bother with all of these points and guidelines and poor attempts at humor, when you can simply leave it to the pros? This is what we LOVE TO DO.