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Effectiveness of Outdoor Advertising

Updated on February 15, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Promotional flags and banners can be used to call attention to events, locations and celebrate holidays.
Promotional flags and banners can be used to call attention to events, locations and celebrate holidays. | Source

Surprisingly, the effectiveness of outdoor advertising may be increasing as Internet and social media use increases. Why?

People are overwhelmed with the amount of advertising information that bombards them daily on their computers and mobile devices. The amount of messages can easily run into the hundreds per day, leading people to filter out many advertisements on television (by skipping commercials while watching recorded shows), radio (channel flipping or listening to subscription music-only channels), website ads and often email. But outdoor advertising, such as billboards, cannot be turned off. It is on 24/7/365 and is usually in obvious places along roadways and walkways, often when people are less distracted by their e-gadgets.

Additionally, outdoor advertising is often placed in strategic locations where passersby (either driving or walking) would be ready, willing and able to act on the offer. Think billboards or sidewalk signs with dining specials for a restaurant. And with today's technologies, such as electronic billboards, advertisers have expanded options for creating visually stunning ads that attract attention.

However, outdoor advertising can be a significant investment. So being able to select the right type of media to use is essential.

Sidewalk chalkboard (or whiteboard or blackboard) tent signs provide flexibility and visibility at low cost, particularly for small businesses in retail areas.
Sidewalk chalkboard (or whiteboard or blackboard) tent signs provide flexibility and visibility at low cost, particularly for small businesses in retail areas. | Source

What is Outdoor Advertising?

Outdoor advertising can take several forms, though most are of the sign variety. The following outdoor options are most common:

  • Billboards. Traditionally, these were large sign structures on which sheets of paper were adhered. Today paper has frequently been replaced by a large sheet of plastic or vinyl material that is stretched over the physical sign. Electronic billboards and signs have also replaced traditional paper billboards. Sometimes sides of entire buildings are painted to become a billboard. They are usually placed along highways and other highly trafficked areas.
  • Sidewalk Signs. These are designed to stand freely on sidewalks. Often they are used to promote restaurant and retail specials in shopping areas or used for directional signs. For more casual environments, chalkboard type signs can be used which can be changed frequently. Other signs provide a tent-like base on which lettering or posters can be attached and frequently replaced. Either type provides flexible, cost-effective advertising, especially for small businesses in retail areas. There may be placement restrictions for sidewalks; check with local government offices to verify before investing.
  • Buildings and Grounds. Building owners and tenants use signs, frequently lighted, as branding for their company. In retail and restaurant locations, outdoor equipment such as patio umbrellas can also carry the business' brand name. Municipalities may have significant restrictions on what is allowed and may require approval prior to placement. Consult local government offices for details.
  • Promotional Flags and Banners. Flags and banners promoting a business or special offers can be placed along entryways or high traffic areas to gain attention. While traditionally flown flags can be used, flexible flags that look like a rounded blade are very popular at a reasonable cost. Municipalities and shopping areas also use vertical flags on posts to call attention to particular areas, events, offers and for holiday decorations. These can be made of cloth (like traditional flags), vinyl or a polyester fabric.
  • Inflatables. Giant inflatable animals, characters, products and structures (such as entryways and moonwalks for kids) can be purchased or rented Used occasionally, they can be very effective in gaining attention for special events, offers and messages.
  • Airplane Advertising and Blimps. Small private planes or blimps can be hired to fly messages over a target area or event. These have been used frequently over sports stadiums with onboard cameras taking pictures or video of the venue. Often these carry corporate sponsor advertising. This is one of the more expensive options.
  • Tents. Tents featuring a business' logo can provide shade, define an event area or be used at outdoor expos and shows. They can also be used for indoor events if the facility permits.
  • Balloons. Standard balloons attached to signs and cars can be attention-getters. However, helium balloons may be restricted in some areas and present some environmental challenges.
  • Trucks and Vehicles. They are moving billboards! With expanded graphic capabilities such as vehicle wraps, trucks can bring a business' brand and message where signs are often banned. Simple magnetic signs applied to vehicles provide low cost advertising for many small businesses.
  • People and Performers. Costumed or performing people provide animated advertising. Magicians, clowns, jugglers, musicians, dancers, costumed characters or people distributed samples are 3D advertising that is difficult to resist. The biggest challenge with this tactic is getting people that can properly represent the brand. A bored or poor performer can actually turn potential customers off. Don't make the mistake of thinking that anybody can be tapped for a duty like this. Hire a professional performer or model if needed.

Giant Outdoor Advertising: The Goodyear Blimp

Outdoor Advertising Buying Tips

Because of some of the high costs associated with outdoor advertising, here are some general buying tips to keep in mind:

  • View from a Distance. This is where many billboards and signs fail due to being too detailed, low contrast or confusing messages.
  • Plan for Long Term. Like any marketing effort, plan to continue using outdoor advertising consistently for at least six months to a year.

Measuring Effectiveness of Outdoor Advertising

As with many other promotional products, outdoor advertising can have the advantage of a high number of impressions, but measuring exact return on marketing investment (ROI) can be challenging, if not impossible.

As discussed in Measuring Advertising, there are a number of metrics that can be monitored to help determine if an advertising effort has helped improved sales. These include:

  • Total sales revenues in dollars
  • Specific product sales (if featured in ads)
  • Number of sales or orders
  • Number of individual customers served
  • Traffic to brick-and-mortar locations or websites
  • Number of inquiries received

As noted earlier, outdoor advertising is a long-term investment. Monitor monthly or quarterly is ideal for most small businesses, but weekly may be appropriate for some operations. An annual review should be done before planning for the following year.

The Future of Outdoor Advertising

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, advertising icon David Ogilvy predicted the demise of billboards. Back in Ogilvy's day, billboards littered the landscape and many were environmental eyesores. But that was before the digital age. He might have a different viewpoint today.

So what does the future hold for outdoor advertising?

  • Live 3D will STILL Work. 3D advertising such as blimps, balloons, inflatables and performers interrupt an audience and gain attention, even for those who have their noses glued to their mobile devices.
  • More Electronic Billboards. With their flexibility and creative capabilities, electronic billboards will continue to replace or be added to physical sign structures.
  • More Interactivity with Mobile. While the prospect can be somewhat unsettling, as in the movie Minority Report, expect more interaction between places and people via mobile devices. These technologies are here now!

Interactive Electronic Billboards like in Minority Report are Here

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Kristen! Glad you found it interesting. Yes, outdoor can be quite effective and cut through the clutter. Appreciate your support! Have a great day!

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 

    5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

    This was an interesting hub from you, Heidi. Very useful to know how people advertise outdoors than indoors these days. Voted up!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Agreed, JPSO138, too many billboards can be overwhelming and noisy. That's why we're seeing many areas with restrictions on number, size or type of billboards. But, as you note, they are effective, especially if used correctly. Thanks for stopping by! Have a great weekend!

  • JPSO138 profile image


    6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

    Yes they are indeed effective. In our city alone, we have a lot of billboards for advertising. Though they are really a sight for sore eyes, but definitely they catch attention and anything that catches attention are obviously effective. Great hub!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi stuff4kids! I totally agree with your friend. Offline advertising should definitely be used to advertise websites so that people are less likely to go to search and go direct to the site. Glad you found it informative. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Have a great day!

  • stuff4kids profile image

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    6 years ago

    How interesting. I imagine that all persistent advertising must work, however - online, inline or outdoor just because so many billions of dollars are spent on it annually.

    I do know a guy who runs an internet business but he still swears by off-line advertising to drive traffic to his websites. I must admit when he really gets going my eyes do tend to glaze over slightly as it's not really my zone. He talks about 'viral t-shirts' enthusiastically but that just sounds unhygienic to me!

    But thanks for a great and informative insight into something that I would never have come across elsewhere. :)

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, alexmk, for stopping by! I think there are some laws already in place in some areas, particularly for video and animated effects, because you're right that they can be HUGE distractions for drivers. I think we'll also see privacy laws about the Minority Report type electronic signs and ads that have facial recognition. Have a great day!

  • alexmk profile image


    7 years ago from Canada

    I bet there will be laws in the future about animated billboards near roads, as they would be a huge distraction for drivers.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    Agreed, billybuc! You and David Ogilvy are definitely on the same page. Done correctly, outdoor is an environmental enhancement instead of a detractor. I also don't know what's more overwhelming these days, outdoor ads or the Internet. :) Have a lovely weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    Wow, what a coincidence, younghopes! Good luck with your thesis. That's always a BIG project. Much success!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks so much jabelufiroz! Glad you enjoyed. Have a great weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    7 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I have no doubt that certain outdoor advertising is effective, but there is still the "overwhelming effect" that we all deal with. We see so much of it; I wonder how much of it actually affects our subconscious?

    Anyway, interesting food for thought. Have a great weekend.

  • younghopes profile image

    Shadaan Alam 

    7 years ago from India

    Heidi you won't believe but this hub is closest to my heart, i have submitted my Thesis on Outdoor Advertising only, about its effectiveness and future. So good to read this, an excellent and well detailed hub, voted up

  • jabelufiroz profile image


    7 years ago from India

    Good article on Effectiveness of Outdoor Advertising. Voted up.


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