Outdoor ads: scale and speed

Of all the major forms of media, the simplest seems the worst understood. Outdoor advertising involves looking at an ad while you’re a substantial distance away and driving at high speed. Most viewers are driving a car; so they can’t look for long. A half a second maybe? Passengers might have two seconds.

The rule of thumb is 7 words or less and no more than two design elements (i.e. logo + one picture). Less than twenty percent of the ads I photographed met this basic requirement. Include your product name in that 7 words. I’m assuming you want to mention your product. No cheating. If your product name has two words you’re down to 5. Include your web address if you’re using that. If it’s long it counts as two words.

The job in outdoor is capturing the eye quickly. This requires excellent design and that generally means simple and minimalist.

It’s very difficult to judge an outdoor ad when you proof it on a desk because it looks like a print ad. Outdoor is way different to print. One good way to realistically assess the worth of an outdoor ads is to have someone wave the proof at you for a second. “Here it is. Like it? Gotta go.”

Let’s start with the best one.


Clear and simple reminder that flowers are a Christmas gift. Not perfect (the word “interflora” is hard to read) but a sound strategy reasonably well executed.

Second best, but a long second:


Although this meets the design rules it’s a very poor ad. It’s a tease but the image is not enticing. It’s a clothing shop just around the corner from the billboard. Would have been sensible to add “Napoleon Street” so that the punters have the option of finding it.

Next victim:


Hard to read text, too many small confusing photos; a disaster. I drove past this thinking ‘what the hell was that all about?’ Could have been an ad for a horror movie.

Last and least because they’re a big enough company to know better:

First National Real Estate

I’ve got a great idea: let’s turn our logo into wallpaper so that nobody can see it! In case you can’t make it out, the name of the business is First National. I don’t think I’d be relying on them to advertise my house.


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