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How to make the most of the creative space on a billboard

When designing an ad campaign there are lots of considerations that tend to dominate, like finding that killer slogan, or conveying your USP in the best way. But once you have got these things nailed, it’s time to focus on the small details that give your designs that X-factor. Making creative use of the limited space you have is guaranteed to take your ads to the next level.

Blank space is your friend

There’s often a strong temptation to stuff as much content as possible into your billboard design.

Take this sign for instance:

image showing cluttered creative space on a billboard advertisement

For a start, the copy is confusing, with very little sense of what info’s crucial and what isn’t (putting your full address on a billboard is just a no-no). But they’ve also tried to fill up the entire billboard space with content. The result is that it looks unprofessional… desperate, even. By using as little space as possible you will convey a sense of confidence to your audience. You will also ensure that your essential marketing message gets across. Take this Google billboard as a good example of this:

image showing a google billboard advertisement successfully using the creative space

A sign that you’ve got your billboard design right is that there is lots of blank space. This lets your design “breathe” and results in a clear, memorable message. Speaking of which…

Focus on one memorable image

An effective billboard design only has one memorable image for its audience to take away. In the above Google poster, the copy with strikethrough font is used to suggest the process of front row tickets quickly being snapped up for a concert or sporting event. In this case the “image” is largely font-based. We also have the revamped Google Chrome logo, and a short slogan and url… all basking in plenty of white space. It’s a “less is more” strategy that rarely fails.

image showing a KitKat billboard advertisement

KitKat take the idea of just having one striking image even further. Because their products can be found on every confectionary shelf in the land, they simply seek to place their brand front of mind the next time we pop to the shop for a snack. Their poster doesn’t even complete their famous slogan. This type of design is about topping up brand awareness, and relies on wide knowledge of your services, but the point is to use one killer image to get results.

Play with layout

The way images and text are laid out in a billboard design takes advantage of how we take in visual information. A lot of this has to do with our expectations.

Take the 96-sheet examples below. These size billboards are typically used to give us a sense of scale.

In the slightly disturbing tapeworm ad below, the width of the billboard is used to demonstrate how long your dog’s tapeworm can grow. The fact that the image is to scale gives extra impact; the very physical characteristics of the billboard are being used to graphically illustrate the need to buy the featured anti-tapeworm product.

image showing a canine tapeworm billboard advertisement

In the next example, our eyes again see a wide, letterbox style landscape billboard. But the design subverts the format by only using the very centre of the billboard to display visual content, in this case a new Nokia phone. The whole design could fit onto a billboard on fifth the size, but it would lose the striking visual impact.

It says to us, this product must be very important if all this space is being used just to show us this one item.

image showing a Nokia billboard advertismentImage:

Make use of movement

These days there’s not a giant leap from static billboard designs to digital billboard displays which can make use of motion to add extra engagement.

The cost of digital outdoor advertising has fallen greatly. You can book a digital 48-sheet billboard, which will show a 10 second ad once every 70 seconds, for £1,250.

You don’t need to create a full-blown movie, you can use free online software tools like Adobe Spark to create short moving videos using a simple drag and drop template, and then uploading images and copy to customise your ad.

This is a great way to take your ad design to the next level.

Reference the real world

Bear in mind that ad designs are seen in-situ by audiences; your ad exists in a specific context.

If you know where your ad is going to be situated you can play with this.

We’ve written before about how footwear brand Ecco used a simple but effective perspective trick to give the impression that the subjects of their billboards were interacting with the architecture of a shopping mall. It’s a great way to grab our attention because it takes advantage of the way we see the world to create extra impact.

image showing busy shopping mall with people walking around

This Walkers crisps ad used digital displays to create a virtual Gary Linker audiences could interact with via Twitter. This may have been a big-budget campaign, but creating the illusion that a person is inside the billboard space could be an impactful, cheeky way to advertise your brand.

Image showing the interactive Walkers Crisps billboard advertisement with Gary Lineker

The great thing about making creative use of the billboard space is that it grabs people’s attention. This is because design is a visual language that people are familiar with through continuous daily exposure. So making effective use of this visual language, especially when it subverts expectations, makes your ads more memorable for audiences.

Making the most of your ad designs

When commissioning an ad design, collect images of your favorite ads that you think make the most effective use of billboard space. Send them to your designer or creative team to give them a better idea of what you want out of the design. It’s a bit like when people take a photo of a celebrity to show their hairdresser, it creates a reference point to guide the creative process.

Before designing an ad for your billboard, you should know what medium you will be advertising on. The size, scale, and location of your ad site should all influence your campaign’s creative design. Signup for free to search the Bubble Outdoor ad locator map to find ad sites in your area.

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