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11/04/99 - Board Silly

The plague of ineffective billboards along our highways which was addressed in an August Observation Post titled "Waste Of Space" continues to spread.

(I sent a link to the story to the editor of outdoor industry publication Signs Of The Times and received no response.)

While I used two billboards promoting Wisconsin Tourism as examples, their incomprehensible style is shared by many other advertisers.

To prove that, I've hit the road and found many more good bad examples of outdoor advertising. All are as bad if not worse than Wisconsin's big photo, eye chart headline and buried client info format.

Let's start with a double header. Not only are these boards poorly designed for outdoor advertising, but their locations further dilute what little communication power they have. While they face the expressway, they do so in a manner that would require drivers to look from the corners of their eyes.

Sadly enough, they're not even visible to local traffic that passes them. While the Starbucks board at least has a famous logo going for it, new web advertiser how.com has totally flushed its advertising investment down the crapper.

The board's copy is difficult to read even when standing directly in front of it, which is something only yours truly would do. Obviously, know-it-all how.com isn't too swift when it comes to advertising.

Tragically, this sorry state of communications is common among naive dot.com advertisers. I'll be commenting on this trend in a future Observation Post.

Just a block down is this jumbo sign for Hewlett-Packard color printers. Of course, I know that because I got out of my car and walked up to it. I should have let you guess. The wide shot gives you an idea of what it looks like to expressway drivers. I know when I first caught a glimpse of it, I strained to read it without success. I don't think your average motorist is going to make that effort.

The exploration of white space continues with a nearby Dodge image ad. Make that fleeting image. From the highway the only thing you can distinguish is the red rectangular shape on the far right side. Before a close up inspection, I thought this was a cell phone ad. There are other boards in this campaign that are also just as hard to see. One uses a series of white gloves concluding with a pair of red boxing gloves. Another uses thin fish hooks and ends with a big red lure. Don't think it'll hook any car buyers, though.

As with the earlier examples, these signs are not only invisible from the expressway, but is also too tall to be seen by local street traffic. So what audience does that leave--birds?

The faint tag in the lower right-hand corner says "Dodge Different" (oh yeah, like "Think Different") but this is a case where different definitely isn't better.

Well, at least Dodge won't have to worry about Buick's boards selling any more cars. This incomprehensible pack of copy hovers high above Chicago Loop expressway traffic heading into a tunnel and then out into a tangle of lanes known as "the spaghetti bowl." Think anyone's going to noodle with this board while they're headed into a "spaghetti bowl?" And no, pedestrian viewers are not a factor.

The creators of this sign are so out of touch with the limitations of human perception that they went to the trouble of positioning the words in the headline so that "safety" is spelled out vertically. I didn't even realize this until I blew up the shot and discovered a vertical line of bold letters. I'm probably the only person not associated with Buick to have done so.

As a refreshing change of pace, here's a billboard with a headline that's readable. Only problem is figuring out what hospital it's for. At first I thought the black horizontal line near the bottom was an art element until I realized it was the hospital's name. The fact that this billboard is on an entrance ramp and is too small to be seen from the expressway doesn't help.

I saved the best for last. I've been at stop lights right in front of this board and still haven't been able to read it. I'm sure normal folks just dismiss it on sight, if they even see it at all. The bare flesh might draw attention, but there's no advertising message to pay it off. The creators must equate being uncommunicative with sophistication.

Or maybe, as might be the case with many of the examples cited here, this is a print campaign that was dumped onto a billboard. Is a decision to do so budget-driven, in an attempt to amortize production costs? Or is it due to the ease with which ads can be reformatted using desktop publishing programs?

No matter how these boards got approved and posted, it wasn't worth the effort and expense. Their messages are inappropriate for the medium. Their presence might look nice on a media plan but, in reality, they contribute nothing to the marketing communications mix.

Strangely enough, I have to admit these boards made an impression on me beyond their poor communications skills. After reviewing them, the name "ELLER" became burned in my memory. And no wonder, the ELLER billboard company's name on the frame is often more prominent than the advertiser's.

Just goes to show that billboard advertising can be very effective--when you can see it.