Billboards might seem a little old school, however, there are numbers proving that they still drive awareness of a brand, but only when advertised correctly. Here’s what you should know.

September is Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. That means we’re talking to the chief marketing officers at major brokerages about how the pandemic is changing their jobs and what it means for agents. We’re publishing a suite of tactical Inman Handbooks for marketing on digital portals. And we’re looking at what pages of the traditional marketing playbook still work. Join us all month long.

This article series is largely taken from the Real Estate Marketing Playbook with permission from the author.

Kris Lindahl is, hands down, the king of billboards. You can’t drive down any major freeway in Minnesota without seeing one of them. He had also managed to leverage the exposure from all of his billboards into additional PR when the Vikings played the Eagles in Philadelphia for a shot to play in the Super Bowl, which was held here in Minnesota.

Kris Lindahl

He was brazen enough to put up a big purple and yellow billboard right outside the Eagles’ stadium and even show up for the game. The Vikings didn’t win, but he did receive a tremendous amount of support from fans back home.

Later on, he donated space on a billboard he paid for to bring back a Michael Jordan-inspired photo of WNBA Lynx player Maya Moore, which generated more positive publicity.

Now, I’m not saying you need 30-plus billboards like Lindahl has to be effective, but it isn’t realistic to think that you can buy just one billboard and expect to see results. In fact, it can be quite difficult to get your message across when cars are whizzing by at 70 mph and likely staring at their phones. 

However, according to a report released by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (conducted by Omnicom Media Group’s Benchmarketing), products advertised on billboards see a 497 percent return on investment. In addition, the report found that when out-of-home (OOH) advertising is incorporated into a campaign, it improves the campaign’s revenue. And it increases the effectiveness of digital search by 40 percent.

The numbers are there to prove that billboards can drive awareness of a brand, but only when advertised correctly.

The costs of billboard campaigns

Billboards are costly to produce and fall into the same price range as TV commercials. 

According to Movia, many different aspects can affect how much you will pay for billboard advertising. Three primary factors are:

  • Circulation: This is the total volume of traffic that passes the billboard, derived from transportation authorities. The amount of circulation does not take into account whether passersby see your ad or not.
  • Demographics: A look at who passes by your billboard, broken down by age, gender and income level. You’ll likely pay more in areas where passersby have higher income levels.
  • Impressions: Based on the size of the ad, visibility and the speed people pass by, impressions are the number of people who might see it, derived from geo-positioning and circulation of the billboard.

Together, these factors make up the OOH ratings of a billboard, which is the standard set of measurements used by ad agencies. For more on these ratings, you can check out Geopath, the premier OOH advertising ratings organization.

Similar to TV advertising markets, you will pay more for prime spots. For example, billboards in downtown New York will be significantly higher than a billboard in a rural area. 

In addition to the location and length of time costs, there are costs for production. To begin with, you will need someone to design the billboard, if you do not have the time or the expertise to do it yourself. Freelancers can run from $500-$1,000. An agency will be higher: $5,000-$10,000. You can go beyond just traditional billboards and stand out with more 3D designs (like the Chik-Fil-A Cows), but plan on that as an added cost.

Vinyl is the standard material used for the ad itself because of its resistance to weather. The cost of printing an advertisement on vinyl for a bulletin billboard (14-feet-by-48-feet, or almost 700 square feet of material) runs between $300-$500.

You would typically think that digital billboards would be cheaper to acquire. Yes, it is cheaper to produce the actual billboard, as it’s a high-resolution digital image, but there is a catch. Because the billboard companies have wised up and converted some of their highest trafficked locations to digital, you are stuck paying for those more premiere sites. A digital campaign will add about 10-20 percent more than a traditional billboard.

However, for your real estate business, a digital billboard provides a unique opportunity: You will have the ability to easily and quickly update the information on your ad to promote new listings or to update your photo. Additional costs might be incurred to update the image, but it’s far more efficient than planning a whole new print campaign.

According to, a leading financial interest website, here are some best practices for any billboard campaign:

  1. The fewer the words, the better: Considering that people are on the move when they read billboards, allot for about six seconds of reading time; that’s the industry average for reading a billboard. So, six words is about the max that you have to get your message across. Being concise is tough, but too much text will get passed by. If you have a sophisticated brand, product or service, you should stay away from billboards completely.
  2. Get noticed, but don’t distract: Most of the time, billboards target drivers, bikers, cyclists or pedestrians. You have just a few seconds to get a message across to people who are on the move, which creates an interesting dilemma for the advertiser. You want to get noticed, but you don’t want to cause any accidents.
  3. Billboards are not for direct response: There are some genuinely awful billboards covered in phone numbers and website addresses, and without a doubt, people are not calling those numbers or visiting those websites.
  4. Remember, they’re not the be all, end all: A billboard is an effective secondary advertising medium, which means that it’s ideal for brand-building and supporting a campaign, but it just can’t do the heavy lifting. Billboards are the wrong medium for anything other than a quick message.
  5. Don’t be too clever: A boring billboard will get no attention. A smart billboard will grab the attention and leave a lasting impression. A billboard that’s trying too hard to be clever, well, more than likely, it will get lost on the audience.
  6. The more billboards, the better: One billboard is not cheap — but it’s also not very practical either. Billboards are a mass market medium, but they need more than one location. You want as many eyes on them as possible, which is a compelling argument to go with digital billboards to get on more signs in heavily trafficked areas.
  7. Get creative: Get creative with your billboard ideas. A flat billboard is the standard, but it doesn’t have to be the norm.
  8. Keep it simple, stupid: A billboard is a quick read. Most of the time, you see it as you speed past it in your car, so it needs to get the message across as efficiently as possible.
  9. Be wary of logo size: You might be tempted to spend your valuable space on your logo. That would ring true if your logo were easily recognizable like the golden arches or the Coca-Cola ribbon. If your logo is not that iconic, it’s better to match logo with words that make an impact and drive awareness.

Although it’s difficult to quantify the number of leads a billboard campaign gets you, they are undoubtedly an advanced and powerful option when your business is ready and when your advertising budget allows it.

Writer’s note: This research was compiled in writing my book. I have not created a billboard campaign myself. 

Real Estate Marketing Playbook was inspired by observations and experiences over many years in the real estate business. This series includes example strategies from the playbook, and the full text is available on Amazon, Kindle and Audible.

Brandon Doyle is a Realtor at Doyle Real Estate Team — RE/MAX Results in Minneapolis and co-author of Mindset, Methods & Metrics – Winning as a Modern Real Estate Agent. You can follow him on Twitter.

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