Tips for Crafting Outdoor Copy that Delivers

Published June 8, 2023

Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising has several components for a successful visual and practical impact. Here are just three:

  1. Copy (the actual words on the ad)
  2. Visuals (what people see on the ad other than words)
  3. Placement (where the ad is placed can affect other creative options and how you lay out the whole creative picture)

For this post, we’ll focus on copy for Outdoor advertising and how to make the most of very little.

Less is WAY MORE!!!

With Outdoor advertising, it is very important to communicate your message as rapidly as possible – keep it straight forward and to the point.

Keep in mind that many placements are being put in front of a mobile audience (meaning that the audience is physically moving), and exposure time is typically 4-5 seconds. So, stick to one idea and do it with the least amount of words possible.

There is a right way and a wrong way to write copy for outdoor advertising. Let’s look at the wrong way.
This is copy from a casino billboard that I drove by recently:

Hot Summer Nights
Nightly giveaways August 1st through September 5th
Sounds like hot fun in the summer!
[Casino logo]
Tagline “Hot Summer Fun”

Total word count: 20 words plus a logo – WOW!

Let’s count the repeated words:
Hot – 3x
Summer – 3x
Night/ly – 2x
Fun – 2x

Here, just four words made up for 10 of the words on the billboard – when a billboard really only has room for about 8 words (or less!) not counting the brand logo. Additionally, we have a lot of repetition that doesn’t add value to the ad itself, and instead detracts value from the call-to-action.

This billboard would have worked much better if the focus was kept on the main call to action, which was to drive traffic to the casino for “Nightly giveaways, August 1st to September 5th”.

Additionally, OOH works really well with digital – and you want people to recall a key phrase so they can google it on their device. The messaging for this billboard has you remembering “hot summer nights” – and when you google that, it’s not the casino that shows up in search!

Avoid Repetition, unless it really works (and you have the room for it!)

With writing for advertisements, if you are going to repeat something, it needs to be worthy of repetition. Repetition works well for audio placements, but is typically wasted on outdoor.
Here is an instance where repetition works:

Hair Club is repeated three times. In the call out message “Restore it with Hair Club”, the vanity phone number and the website. But overall, the message gets across.

Sometimes using no words is a brilliant way to go!

Check out this bright idea for marketing The Economist with outdoor:

Source: AdsoftheWorld

The billboard senses when a person passes under the lightbulb, and the light goes on. It’s a strong visual that needs no words because the idea (get it?!) gets across – you’ll have lightbulb moments (aka great ideas) when you read The Economist.

Consider extensions, inflatables and more

Outdoor advertising provides some unique opportunities to work in the 3D space. These come in the form of extensions (the billboard is not a rectangle for example), inflatables (the billboard has a 3D object on it or special effects (the billboard smokes, or has a sensor that makes it do something like you see with The Economist example).

Another thing to consider with the 3D space is the actual placement. For example, if your outdoor creative is a wallscape, having two wallscapes together at the corner of a building provides a unique story telling opportunity.
For example, this ad for BBC World only uses six words but boy does it ever get the point across in a powerful way!

Here is another example of less is more, but with a very impactful design gimmick – using an inflatable.

The goal of this creative is to sell the experience of being at the aquarium and connecting with the sea. Again, we only have six words, but the message gets across very memorably!

Get your message across

The goal with copy for your outdoor ad is to have the viewer retain the message. Test your design and copy by printing out your design on an 8.55 x 11 sheet if paper, have someone stand 6 feet away and show them the ad for 5 seconds. Then cover the ad and ask them to recall what was on the ad.

You will want them to be able to:

  • Recall the brand
  • Recall the design elements
  • Recall the message

If only the brand is recalled, or some other element, you need to work on it. Some problems with your ad might be related to:

  • Font choice (readability)
  • Color choices (contrast)
  • Imagery

Out-of-Home ads are not cheap, but they are definitely effective if done properly. Bad Outdoor ads can actually damage your brand on top of wasting money.

Reach out to us if you’d like help making the most of your outdoor campaign copy and creative (and placement too – we do it all!)

Reach out to us if you'd like help making the most of your outdoor campaign and creative
(and placements too - we do it all!)

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