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OOH is Efficient— Shouldn’t Your Ad Copy Be Too?

"Find a way to use 3 words only"

3 1,230

OOH is Efficient—
Shouldn’t Your Ad Copy Be Too?



by Nick Coston  OOH (that’s billboards😉)
Media Buyer & Industry Consultant



Back in 2001 when yours truly began his career in OOH, or back then, the billboard industry, we were told when assisting your client in writing copy to keep the word count to 10 words or less. Ted Ward, the retired Geico CMO told me soon after that he wanted us to find a way to use 3 words only: GEICO, SAVE and MONEY. Figure it out, he would say. So we did. And for years they kept their copy to 5 words or less in most cases. And use bright colors that don’t blend into the blue skies or green trees. Yellows, bright blues, some purple. Yeah, they stuck out. 

Which leaves to the rest of you. Apple always keeps it simple, their logo, a photo of their products, many times no words are needed. We know that’s a new iPhone or laptop. Same with Nike and Amazon. Few or no words and a swoosh thing. We get it. And we buy it. 

But wow, so many of you are still writing your long lost senior-year thesis on those 14 x 48 bulletins.

Over the last 2 years I have traveled by car thru California, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. Numerous times. That’s a lot of billboards. It’s also a lot of BBQ. And also a lot of billboards with bad copy. 

Spending an average of $4500 for a static 14 x 48, or worse, $2500 for a digital flip, ad copy was small and far too wordy. What’s the point of paying this amount when the average car driver, going a minimum of 50 mph, has moments to see your message and it’s like the bottom line on an eye test? You just blew thru the first of your numerous $4500 monthly hits with zero results. Then you cry the blues when you say “billboards didn’t work for me. Wahhh”. 

There’s hope for you though. There are so many terrific graphic artists and creative agencies that would love the chance to have those huge canvas’s to play with. Instead, the thinking is “it’s just a billboard” theory on getting the least amount of attention and the last creative deliverable on a big agent’s list. Shame on you.

So over these past 2 years, here are the 5 best attention getters I saw. Simple, bright colors, hardly any words, and memorable. McDonalds, Geico, Justice Ginsberg Memorial, Blue Moon and Florida PI lawyer, Gary Jodat. McDonalds had no real words, just their jingle. And you sang it for the next hour while stuck on I-95 in Jersey. 

So when you set your next OOH budget simple advice: think about the positioning of the board, how far from the road, how high in the air, and how fast the traffic is flying by. Then whatever your message is, cut it in half. Then find and pay for a talented OOH graphic artist, not the same guy who does your People Magazine ads. Then hold it 10 feet from your mug on a piece of paper and see if you can read it. And find someone who takes the time to ride the market, see what works and what doesn’t. You can’t do this from your desk. 

You’ll be seen and get better results. Maybe even consumers will talk about your ads?
Maybe you’ll win an OBIE! 

But at least you won’t wasting your money and say, ‘OOH doesn’t work’. Then try your budgets next time on the back of Fortune Cookie fortunes. Oh, they do exist. 



by Nick Coston is a national, OOH media buyer and OOH management agent with over 20 years of OOH experience. He’s just not billboards anymore.




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  1. Kasper says


  2. Angela Baltkois says

    Totally agree!! We have been saying this to some customers who think a 53 ft moving billboard means 53 ft of essay space. It is especially concerning when they add a phone number and wonder why no one called.

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