How to Design an Effective Ad

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How to design an effective ad depicted by various digital design windows resembling photoshop including an eyedropper tool and color gradients.

These days, attention spans are fleeting and competition is fierce, which means that crafting an effective ad is a must if you want to get noticed. When it comes to out-of-home (OOH) media — specifically billboards — you typically only have a few seconds to capture audience attention, create a lasting impression, and drive desired actions. 

There’s both an art and a science to designing compelling and impactful billboard ads. 

From understanding how people engage with this form of media to harnessing the power of visuals and messaging, we’ll explore key strategies to help you create billboard advertisements that command attention and drive results.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Gauging the Effectiveness of a Billboard Ad

To best understand the impact of your billboard ad on your target audience and determine your campaign’s return on investment (ROI), you’ll want to track and evaluate a few key performance indicators (KPIs). 

We won’t really dive into billboard ROI in this post so check out our post on calculating billboard ROI for more on the subject.

One of the primary methods for measuring effectiveness is through tracking audience engagement metrics. This will look different from advertiser to advertiser depending on the desired outcome of your campaign. Some examples of audience engagement metrics that can result from a billboard ad include:

  • Foot traffic to a brick and mortar location
  • Website visits
  • Website conversion rates (e.g. application/form submission, online purchases, etc.)
  • Phone calls
  • Social media engagement

Maybe the goal of your billboard ad is less tangible than the factors listed above — like brand lift, which measures any increase in brand awareness or favorability following the ad’s placement. Maybe this brand awareness results in an investigative online search that doesn’t necessarily end in a purchase. Or maybe someone will recall your brand when they’re looking to purchase something that you offer.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of a survey. Instead of attempting to guess what your target audience is thinking, just ask them! Surveying can help reveal the level of brand recall as well as people’s opinions towards the ad. 

Overall, evaluating these factors enables you to refine your strategies and optimize future campaigns, which we’ll get into later.

Tailoring Your Ad to Your Audience

Any seasoned marketing or advertising professional can tell you that “the general public” doesn’t exist. Values, interests, behaviors, and demographics vary wildly across populations. Naturally, this means that not all designs and messages will resonate with distinct audiences.

Whether it’s considering the age, gender, or interests of the audience likely to encounter your billboard, or understanding the specific location and context in which they’ll see it, every aspect of your ad should be carefully crafted to speak directly to your intended viewers. Buyer personas are extremely helpful here.

Tailoring your ad to your target audience might involve using language, imagery, and themes that align with their demographic, values, and aspirations, or even incorporating elements of local culture or vernacular to establish a deeper connection. People will connect and notice the extra work you put in to be relevant.

Best Practices: Billboard Design

Now let’s get into the fun stuff: designing an effective ad! 

When it comes to OOH design, less is always more. 

Viewers are most likely to be driving by so view time is generally short. Industry insiders often say that viewing time (when not in traffic) is anywhere between 4-8 seconds. That’s why it’s important to get right to the point and have a clear message. An eye-catching graphic, snappy call to action, and your company’s logo are enough to effectively relay your message.

When advising advertisers on billboard ad best practices, we suggest:

  • 7-10 words
  • 1 headline
  • 1 image
  • 1 logo
  • Website
  • Contrasting colors

The mistake we see most often is advertisers cramming too much information onto their board. It can be tempting to include your website, phone number, slogan, and anything else you typically forefront on your website. However, designing an effective ad involves recognizing the minimum amount of information needed to produce the maximum impact possible.

In the same vein, we like to say “when everything pops, nothing pops”. In other words, there should be a hierarchy of importance in your design elements. If everything’s the same size, you’ll run out of space quickly and passersby won’t retain the most important information.

Just as you would when writing a landing page for your website, consider your billboard ad keywords. If you’re running a recruitment campaign, be sure to have the word “hiring” jump out at viewers. Some strategic secondary keywords could be “bonus”, “flexible”, and “benefits”.

What are billboard specs?

Billboard specs, or specifications, refer to the technical requirements and guidelines that advertisers need to follow when designing and submitting billboard advertisements. We always provide our advertisers with spec sheets specific to their placement to ensure that there are no hiccups in the launch process.

Billboard specifications typically include details such as: 

  • The dimensions of the billboard
  • Resolution and file format requirements for graphics
  • Color mode
  • Bleed and safety margins
  • And any other considerations related to materials and installation. 

Adhering to billboard specs ensures that ads are properly formatted, legible, and visually appealing when on display. If these specifications aren’t properly addressed, your ad could appear warped, cropped, discolored, or just not as originally envisioned.

If you’re not confident in your design skills, don’t worry. We offer free graphic design services to eliminate any creative barriers you might encounter otherwise.

Examples of Great Billboard Ads

We’ve compiled some billboard ad examples to demonstrate how powerful an effective design can be. All of the following are from campaigns that we helped launch.

Effective ad by Frito Lay. A billboard with a black background and various chips with the text "we are going places. join us!" next to the frito lay logo and website below
Times square billboard by vegan cheese brand Armored Fresh. A large vertically oriented static board with a green background and a burger with melty cheese creating a 3D effect. The text reads ZERO DAIRY OAT MILK CHEESE.
PSA from the city of Denton that says KEEP PLASTIC BAGS OUT OF RECYCLING with an image of a black trash bag next to it.
Screen capture of a digital board. It says AVOID A DRYER FIRE. SCHEDULE TODAY! with the brand's logo to the right and website below.
Billboard ad by a cupcake shop with a large image of cupcakes and other desserts next to the text FLAVOR IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER! The business address and website are below.