Design ideas for your advertising billboards

image of someone designing on paper with coloured pens

There’s as much art to designing advertising billboards as there is science. But it’s fairly hard to teach creativity, so we’ll just stick to some tried and tested guidelines for creating effective outdoor advertising.

Slogans: keep them snappy

Slogans should ideally be no longer than 6 or 7 words. Here are some classics:

Bisto – “Ah! Bisto” (2 words)
De Beers – “A diamond is forever” (4 words)
Kit Kat – “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” (6 words)

There are of course notable exceptions:

Ronseal – “Does exactly what it says on the tin” (8 words)
MasterCard – “There are some things money can’t buy – for everything else there’s MasterCard” (12 words)

The point is that you have to make each word count; a wasted word is a wasted chance for engagement.

Avoid clutter

Because your billboard is a chance to make contact with your audience, and because you are investing time and money in running your campaigns, there’s a temptation to pack all the information about your brand and products into a single creative. But the end result will be information overload, and you risk confusing or putting off your audience. Advertising billboards should be clutter-free.

Only one contact point

Keep things lean by avoiding using more than one point of contact. This is especially relevant given contact details are easily found via search engines.

image showing Carlsberg advertising billboards
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This Carlsberg advertising billboard simply has a hashtag to link audiences to its online profile. Ok, so Carlsberg is found in every pub, so let’s check another example.

Top Shop just use a social media handle and hashtag in this eye-catching ad:

Image showing Topshop advertising billboardsImage by:

Get your logo size right

Don’t take up too much space with your logo; too big and it looks desperate, but too small and audiences won’t connect your messaging with your brand. Make sure you get the balance right.

Get your fonts right

Font selection is another balancing act. You want to avoid everyday fonts like Arial and Times New Roman, whilst not going so fancy that it makes your copy illegible. Comic Sans is also generally considered by designers to be a no-go font! Take into account the medium you are using in each case. Large roadside billboards need large, clear fonts that can be seen from a distance and are legible by cars as they whizz by. A bus stop ad can afford to have subtler fonts that draw audiences in more.

Use contrasting colours

Selecting the right colour scheme for your billboard ads is important. Colours convey subliminal messages about your brand, and certain colour combinations catch the eye more than others.

example of contrasting colours for designing advertising billboardsImage by:

This helpful article on the basics of colour psychology talks about how you can achieve your goals in advertising through understanding how colours support the personality of your brand. Colours provoke reactions and conversations, and inform people’s perception of a brand.

Maintain design coherence

All the different visual aspects of your outdoor ad design need to feel like they are coming from the same place; you want the audience to have a flowing experience, where each element of your design serves a purpose and coheres with the whole.

What’s going on with this sign? Here’s a billboard that fails to implement any of the tips above. The end result is a total car crash of a design (not a good thing for a roadside billboard to be).

example of an advertising billboard failImage by:

It’s got loads of text all over the place; some in upper case, some in sentence case. It has two different logos on it, each with a different colour scheme; and they’ve tried to communicate every possible fact about their restaurant on the one billboard.

Avoid these rookie errors by following the guides outlined above. And if in doubt, try and get an outside eye to look over your designs.

Now you know the rules, it’s time to get creative.

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