Bring back billboards: old-school advertising that works

For small businesses, outdoor advertising can extend brand awareness to people who might not otherwise come across them. Here's why the founders of drinks brands TRIP and NICE chose out-of-home campaigns.
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Billboards may be a retro way of pushing products and spreading brand awareness, but that doesn't mean they're not still stealing focus. Brands have recently been beefing up their budgets for out-of-home advertising – think billboards, digital screens, posters, pretty much any marketing message that's in a public space – and it seems to be getting more effective, too: a recent survey found that 45% of Americans pay more attention to outdoor advertising now than they did before the pandemic. 

Increasingly, there's opportunity in meeting people where they are. During the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, for example, brands overwhelmingly tailored their advertising to appeal to the climate-conscious audience that had descended on the city. While it used to be near impossible to measure the impact of a billboard, digital out-of-home advertising can now use data, artificial intelligence or geolocation technology to produce tailored messages and accurately measure reach in real time.

Powdered smoothie brand Kencko recently hit the road with a truckside campaign, while drinks brand Ghia took to the streets to raise awareness of its non-alcoholic beverages. Here's why two more small businesses invested in outdoor advertising – and how it paid off.

Making a spectacle of your brand

For Olivia Ferdi, co-founder of CBD drinks brand TRIP, advertising her product online wasn't an option because of industry regulations. Instead, outdoor advertising presented an opportunity to start educating people on the benefits of CBD – and, by extension, her product. The challenge was putting together a campaign that could stop people in their tracks – something that a lot of out-of-home campaigns struggle to do. 

For their first billboard campaign, the TRIP team created a series of ‘positive affirmations’, featuring short quotes about mental wellbeing and rest. ‘We had a lot of people stop to take a photo, sending them around on social media,’ Olivia says. ‘It was a way to connect with the brand's overall mission of relieving stress.’ She emphasizes that an out-of-home campaign can feel like a large undertaking for small teams. ‘Don't think you can be the expert in everything about this marketing channel,’ she adds. ‘Lean into the [out-of-home media] service providers who can help you on that journey.’

Guiding the new customer 

If someone interacts with your brand in a digital setting, they can quickly find out more by clicking an ad or searching your product. But how do you stick in a potential customer's head after they've seen a billboard for a few seconds? Lucy Wright, co-founder of canned wine company NICE, made the product's packaging the hero image of the brand's outdoor advertising campaign. The NICE team also highlighted exactly where people could find the products. ‘We had our Instagram handle and website [on the adverts], as well as four of our key stockists, both online and retail,’ she says. The campaign, which ran between September and October 2021, reached 2 million people, with a further 130,000 viewing the ads online. 

The NICE team did the creative in-house. ‘Going to an agency is really expensive; it would've been more of a cost than the billboards themselves,’ Lucy adds. And here's another piece of financial advice for small businesses considering out-of-home advertising: ‘Negotiate the hell out of the media companies,’ she says. ‘We got a lot of media, but the spend isn't as large as the campaign looks. Get the most bang for your buck by knowing all the details.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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