Billboard Etiquette

Going to the Market

In the early 2000s, Coca-Cola made a huge effort to reach India’s still-unexplored rural market by designing an unique campaign: they lowered the price for each bottle, created an incredibly extensive supply chain that would reach remote areas and, almost as importantly, let people know there was a new drink to replace their traditional lassi by posting signs on chai stalls, village walls and so on. Although modern billboards have only recently reached some areas in India, placing announcements on public spaces is the oldest form of advertising, and delivers messages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

But the best billboards aren't just omnipresent; they're seemingly omniscient, designed according to tips taken from books with chapters like How to use emotions to persuade:

1) Be strident.
Ads are designed according to two types of audiences: those who actively seek information and those who just happen to be passing by. For the first group, design ads with rational information about the product. Ads designed for the second group should be stimuli-fueled: big, colorful and shiny.

2) Associate the product with desirable situations. 
Create the image of passion, success or happiness, and stick your product next to it

3) Tell a story.
Creating a plot where characters interact can help override audiences’ possible opposition to the advertising message. Select characters who resemble the target audiences, so viewers identify with them, their message and their product. For products like perfume or luxury items, make sure to represent the target audiences' aspirations. 

4) Be funny.
Just like compelling stories, jokes make people relax and drop their initial resistance. 

5) Consider the Weber law.
A noticeable difference in a stimulus is proportional to the magnitude of the original stimulus.  What?
In order for someone to pay attention to your special thing when already surrounded by lots of things, your product advertisement should be bigger, shinier, louder…so that it’s noticeable. 

6) Be concise. 
You have eight words or less to get someone's attention, at least according to a study conducted on more than 2000 ad headings in the United States (motherland of standarized modern billboards). Seventy-four percent of ad headings have some sort of pun or word play.  

7) The bigger, the better.
How much better? A study done in 1964 suggests that attention towards ads increases proportional to the square root of the increase of the printed surface.

(Billboards at Dehradun, India, picture by Nickolas Panagiotopoulos)