Writing billboards is tough. You’re delivering a sales message at freeway speeds, and you absolutely, positively must cut through the barrage of information coming at your reader — who’s trying to keep a ton of steel nicely centered between the lines.

Billboards: An Example of KISS

New copywriters are barraged with formulas for writing great copy, but in this case, KISS might be the most critical (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Still, billboards require a bit more. So I’m introducing “KISSAM” — Keep It Simple, Stupid (And Memorable).

At freeway speeds, no one has time to puzzle out your clever little pun. Or unravel layers of meaning. But they need to remember your billboard for more than the second it takes to look at the next one.

You need to hit them right between the eyes — but do so in a way that amuses, entertains, or delivers a big, big benefit.

That’s a tall order. To do it, you need three things.

  1. A lot of ideas. Pages of them.
  2. Knowledge of billboard locations
  3. A constant reminder about what you’re doing

Ideas. Heaps of ’em.

Like any marketing project, you can’t arrive at the finish without first knowing the destination. You must be very, very clear about what you’re selling. And I’m not talking about the product — I’m talking about the product message.

Years ago I wrote a few billboards for a casino. Of course, we weren’t selling the casino. Our creative theme that year was “fun.”

If your client hasn’t settled on a creative theme, then make one of your own (and align it with their project/business goals).

Then sit down with a pad of paper and a favorite pen, pencil or crayon. And scratch out as many ideas as you can.

Then let them sit for a couple hours, and edit the hell out of them.

Then let them sit overnight.

The next day, ruthlessly edit away all the crap (saving the great-but-off-message ideas for another time).

What’s left should:

  • Hit the reader with a benefit
  • Be aligned with your creative theme
  • Stick in the reader’s memory more than a millisecond

If not, repeat. Really.

Billboard Location

You can write successful billboards without knowing their location. But you’ll write better ones if you do.

Remember the “fun” billboards I mentioned above? Our most distant billboard was 80 miles from the casino. The highway between was famously flat, straight, and boring. I don’t think anyone enjoyed the drive.

If I hadn’t known, I never could have written “You’d Enjoy the Next 80 Miles If You Were Headed Someplace Fun.”

It risked becoming an inside joke, but those who got it (and hopefully laughed) suddenly had a destination — a “fun” target to ponder for the next 70 minutes.

It told drivers we understood their predicament. And that we offered a way out.

The good news? It was mentioned more than a few times by casino patrons.

So know your locations. And if you don’t know, don’t make assumptions. I once saw a roadside billboard urging a driver to “Exit Right” for great food.

Problem is, the restaurant was on the left. There was no exit on the right.

A Constant Reminder

Tape “KISSAM” at the top of your computer monitor, and never forget your creative theme — or the idea that your concept and visual are getting read at 70 mph by drivers with a couple of screaming kids in the back seat.

What are you giving them that’s memorable?

By the way — KISSAM applies to visuals too. Keep them clean, and bounce them off the headlines to add meaning.

In fact — in what is the Underground’s first public policy proposal — I suggest we levy a tax on all the too-complex, wildly confusing billboards peppering the planet.

We’d have enough money to establish the Old Copywriter’s Retirement Home. Or take everyone to Hawaii for a week.

Remember — vote for me.

Here’s Something to Shoot For

One of the most successful billboards I ever saw was located right in the heart of the Silicon Valley — a “geek traffic corridor” of the highest order.

The billboard? A very leggy woman in a short-skirted business suit supported by this brilliant headline:

While You’re Watching Me, Who’s Watching Your Network?”

Sex, a fear appeal, and product identification — in one very funny, “caught you staring” headline/image combo. I wish I’d written it.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.

[tags]billboards, billboard writing, copywriter, freelance copywriter, freelance copywriting, marketing, how to write billboards[/tags]