How to Do Great Billboards

One of my companies is Codeup and it is a coding bootcamp. So, it's a B2C business and it uses the one conventional advertising medium that hasn't been destroyed by the internet: billboards.

Making good billboards for startups is hard. You're targeting some driver flying by at 80mph listening to talk radio, sometimes on the phone and often distracted by kids in the back seat.

I think Codeup has nailed their billboards.

Let's dissect what each of these is doing right.

  • Fewer than 7 words and all are in a BIG FONT. In fact, the fewer words the better. We spent hours in the "Learn To Code" billboard considering if we could remove the word "to" in order to have just two words. On the other hand, look at this mess:

  • To the point. Ever see a billboard and you have no clue what the company actually does? Nothing is clearer: "Learn to Code."
  • Benefits over features. Ever notice how alcohol advertising is filled with social benefits (dating, friends, etc.)? They're not selling beer. They're selling what beer can get you (in their opinion). The Coffee Barrista billboard is excellent in this regard. The message is that "Do Codeup and it'll change your life."

  • Crisp text and colors. The designs have simple backgrounds. Solid colors. Just a nice logo. The added benefit of simple is you can possibly do it yourself as we do. These guys have a great board and clearly didn't need to hire a graphic designer!

  • Faces get attention. Just text? Who cares. Notice the crazy hair and cool expression on Mariano's face in the Codeup board. His knowing smirk works with the general idea of the board, too. Or this guy in the billboard below. It catches the eye.

  • Placement. The quiet secret of the billboard industry is that the best boards are saved for big national advertisers. Little local guys get to fight over the scraps. If you're not big, you must drive the boards to see if they're actually worth a darn! There's regularly $5000 a month boards that are covered by trees like this one:

    A fun anecdote: startup Lyft went so far as to make the worst billboard possible in order to get attention. I know I'm not clever enough to make this work but they pulled it off:

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