Billboards & Marketing Context

A great post in Fast Company about the power of billboards to transform R&D combined with a recent road trip got me thinking about the power of context in marketing. Billboards are a great litmus test for this because the target audience shares a lot of contextual similarities: they’re travelling down the road at 70+ mph in a vehicle of some sort and are likely to have a fairly immediate need for food, gas, or a place to stay.

But audience context is likewise valuable in other marketing settings – whether one-to-one, print, or online. Let’s get the slam-dunk out of the way: if you have strong brand recognition and a known value proposition that your target audience likely has immediate need of, you’re done.


What if you don’t have an immediately-recognizable brand or value proposition? A couple of billboards I ran across on my trip offer a study in contrast:

Billboards Contrast

The billboard on the left doesn’t immediately convey a value proposition, other than that they sell golf shoes (maybe a big need in Florida, but I digress). The low-contrast text and busy design doesn’t help drivers quickly focus on the important information – compare to the Burger King billboard above.

In contrast, the billboard on the right is a simple, clear message with high contrast and a memorable URL. Usually, websites and phone numbers are quickly lost – if they were ever retained – by drivers since they have other things to pay attention to. But this one got the message across to the point where I remembered the URL days after my road trip.

Drivers have at most a couple of seconds to devote to your billboard – if you can’t clearly communicate during that time, you’ve lost. This lesson in context applies equally to other settings:

  • Using a QR code in an online ad completely ignores the beauty of the web – that you can easily click through to any relevant content.
  • The converse is also true: if you need a QR code in your print add to convey your message, you’re not doing it right. (The exception, of course, is when a QR code leads to the desired action like downloading an app.)
  • Trying to drive conversion with POS promotions unrelated to your customers’ needs is a big fail.

Takeaways? Don’t leave your target audience confused, overwhelmed, or guessing. Know your audience. Know your channel. And know how to effectively use your channel to communicate your value proposition.

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