Marketing and the Limitations of Outdoor Ads

By Alexander Hiam

Outdoor or public-space advertising must be kept simple because people view it from a distance and usually in a hurry. The message should be simple enough to grasp in a second; the art and copy must also be simple and clear.

Here’s a useful exercise to help you understand the design requirements for a billboard. Draw a rectangular box on a sheet of blank paper, using a ruler as your guide. Make the box 2¼ inches wide and 1 inch high. That’s the proportion of a standard outdoor poster (a large, printed advertisement posted on a signboard or building).

Although an actual poster is much larger, from a distance it may look as small as the box on your sheet (see this figure). Now hold your paper (or the figure) at arm’s length and think about what copy and artwork can fit in this space, while remaining readable to passersby at this distance. Not much, right?

Be careful to limit your message to a few bold words and images — otherwise, your poster becomes a mess that no one can read. Perhaps you’ve driven behind a car with a bumper sticker you couldn’t read. It’s frustrating, but nowhere near as costly a design mistake as when a billboard is hard to decipher. Be simple, bold, and clear!

From a distance, a large roadside poster looks no bigger than this image.

From a distance, a large roadside poster looks no bigger than this image.