Monday, December 29, 2008

Billboards for Dummies

We've been driving back and forth to my folks' house quite a bit this past week. It's about a 45 minute drive along a major interstate highway, and it's given me a lot of time to ponder billboards. There are a lot of really bad billboards out there. Not bad in the moral sense (although there are plenty of those around as well. My feelings about that whole Vegas ad campaign could fill more than a few posts for starters). Bad in the sense that they don't do what I assume someone intended them to do - i.e., communicate something about their product.

There's one that has an enormous picture of a cute little girl with no hair. In very large font it says, "Ellie vs. Brain Tumor." In a paragraph's worth of very tiny print along the right side, I assume it says where Ellie went for treatment and where you and I can donate money to help children like her. I assume this, because, despite having driven by this sign a half dozen times in the past week, I can't make out a single word of it. I'm sure it looked great on the 8.5 x 11 proof someone looked at while holding it still in their hands. On a billboard on the far side of the freeway while moving at 70-ish mph, it's not so legible. Why did they bother?

There's another one that screams, "Stop the Worry!" but then whispers everything else it has to say. I'm worried that someone will run off the road straining to read and write down the teeny tiny phone number printed along the bottom of the sign while driving.

You'd think that the people who rent the billboard space would have someone helping with issues like this. There should be a minimum recommended font size or something. After all, if the sign you pay for doesn't generate any business, you're not likely to rent it again, right? I've learned from experience that they don't. They will, however, let you correct your error if you figure it out yourself.

We helped out with a new church plant a number of years ago. Just before the "launch Sunday" there was an advertising campaign to get the word out. Part of that involved putting up a billboard. We were newbies at it, and it was fairly exciting. The team leadership put a lot of thought put into where it should be and exactly which of the available signs along that stretch of highway we should go for. A very talented designer came up with the ad for us: "Real people, in the real world, serving a real God." Pretty catchy, I thought, and reflective of what we were about.

The ad looked great on the post cards. Finally the big day came when it went up on the billboard. B and I drove by to check it out. The excitement quickly faded. We had seen the ad dozens of times and knew just what it said, but even we were having a hard time reading the sign. The text just wasn't big enough and the contrast wasn't strong enough to read it from across the freeway. Soon after, that beautiful ad came down and was replaced by one with a simple white background, green lettering, and a very large picture of the pastor's family. (The pastor whose wife, I'm told, said, "Oh, Kenny" -- and not in a happy way -- the first time she saw her very large picture up there!) It wasn't quite as unique or creative, but it was a lot more effective in getting the information out.

Some others should take the time to visit their signs and learn the same lesson.


Lori said...

I finally had a minute to catch up on some much needed relazing time, which for me is blogging. I'm glad you are feeling better. I sure understand what you are talking about with the small print on some of the billboards.

Did little J ask for his toy's back? That was such a sweet post.

Love Ya,


BTW- Happy New Year!

SJ said...

No, he never has, much to my surprise. When we're cleaning up and I ask him to put them away, he's even said, "That goes in H's room."

SJ said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for the information! I went to Ellie's site as you recommended. I would have visited weeks ago, had there been any such information legible on the billboard.