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5 Ways to Make Your Out-of-Home Advertising Stand Out

You’d be hard pressed to find any marketer who would deny that the advertising landscape has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The rise of digital and social ad platforms has left many media buyers perplexed as they try to determine how best to reallocate their client’s budget. You would assume this would through traditional advertising companies into a panic and cause their sales to nosedive, but…did that happen? Have billboards, bus stop ads, newspaper, radio, and television commercials ceased to exist? The answer, of course, is no. Savvy marketers realized that a multiplatform approach with a diverse media mix is the way to go. Here are some guidelines to help your out-of-home ads cut through the clutter in the multimedia age.

 7 Words or Less

 Let’s start with a tried and true concept that applies to any form of clear channel outdoor advertising: keeping your copy short and simple. If people are driving by a billboard, they only have a few seconds to process messaging. If people are watching an ad on a bus drive by, the same notion is true in reverse. The more information you try to jam into a small space, the less effective your message will be. Studies show that your copy should be limited to seven words or less for maximum effect. Ideally, this should combine a short branding statement and a call to action. If that would require more words, consider substituting a logo or website as a design element.

Bold, Sans Serif Fonts

The history of typography and the pendulum swing from one font style to another is a fascinating subject. At times, marketers have sought a more formal and elegant design trend, using script or serif fonts for their advertising. At other times, very thin sans serif typefaces were associated with the coolness of new digital technology. Currently, the trend has moved somewhere in the middle towards big, bold sans serif fonts that, at worst, hit you over the head with their messaging, and, at best, make it impossible to ignore. 

A Single, Strong Image 

You may be tempted (or asked) to load your ad with photos of multiple people, products, or locations. For example, a law firm or medical clinic may want pictures of all their partners, or a television station may want to list their entire prime time lineup with images from each show. This is understandable, but there’s a right and wrong way to do this.


A strong, simple image, whether it’s a photo, illustration or logo accompanying your short, bold text is the most effective design strategy for out-of-home advertising. People casually passing a poster, or billboard can process this quickly, especially if the information is laid out in an easily-scannable z-pattern. So how do you overcome one of the challenges above, where a client is asking to feature multiple images? The answer is to create one image. Instead of separate photos of multiple people, place them in a group shot. You can do the same for products. It’s easier than ever to accomplish this with digital photo editing software that can remove backgrounds. The most important thing to avoid is placing multiple items in boxes or grids like Hollywood Squares or the opening credits to the Brady Bunch.

 QR Codes

 A recent innovation that can really benefit outdoor ads is the development of QR (or “quick-response” codes. You’ve likely seen these in the bottom corner of many print ads. They’re white and black boxes that resemble blurry UPC codes. When scanned with a smartphone, they will take you immediately to a website. Some companies have even incorporated them into their business cards to send people directly to their LinkedIn profiles or organization’s website.

While QR codes pose an inherent risk to drivers if used in roadside billboards, they’re a perfect addition to stationary out of home ads like bus stop artwork, posters, and murals. A person with a smartphone and time on their hands can scan them and read all about your business. If relevant, offer a discount or free consultation for people who visit you through the code.


Advertising is constantly changing, which makes getting noticed more critical than ever. These guidelines will help your message cut through the clutter!

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