Tips and Tricks

Ever wondered why you attracted to an ad?
Why only one out of those ten ads make your head turn?
How you unconsciously select what to read and what to ignore?

It is undoubtedly the creative aspect of the ad, the layout, the colour, the font which determines the look and feel of the ad. It has been proven many times over that, creativity is one of the most important factors in the effectiveness of any campaign. Arguably, a creative can make or break your campaign.

This is true particularly for outdoor ads as the viewing time and exposure is most restricted in this medium of advertising. The outdoor viewing audience is mostly mobile. People are generally traveling in vehicles or walking by while they perform the activities of daily life. Constant movement limits the potential viewing time of an outdoor message to only a few seconds. Hence, outdoor designs require a disciplined and brief creative to attain retention. Along with this, high frequency and repeated exposures will ensure that a message is absorbed and retained over time.

Keeping the following factors in mind while designing your
creative for an outdoor can give some impressive results…

Designing a creative for an outdoor is like dictating a story through effective visuals. The expression of an idea can surprise viewers with words or excite them with pictures. Through the use of humor or drama, outdoor designs can influence consumer decisions. However, it is a challenging task to communicate the idea with minimum words and maximum clarity.


Does the message create maximum visibility?

Use colours and pictures to contrast with the sky and other surroundings. Is the ad readable from various distances, angles, lighting and weather conditions? Do not put words or sentences stacked on top of each other. This reduces the ability to understand and view the message. Visibility covers the following aspects:


Font size: A board is always viewed from a distance. Therefore it should be clearly visible, that is, the font size should be large enough so that it can be read from 100 ft or more. It should be legible and capitals should be used for displaying headings. All text should be at least 1 foot tall to be legible. Remember, that's only to be legible! Effective type size, especially for a headline, is 3 to 4 feet tall. The minimum type height on a normal 20 feet X 10 feet hoarding should be upwards 30 inches. Better creative typically has sturdy letters with even spacing. The text should not crowd the letters leading to confusion.

Line thickness: When viewing from 600 feet, thin lines would hardly be visible, they completely disappear. Unlike print which has the “white space” rule, the viewing size is too small in outdoor. It is like viewing 1” X 3” newspaper ad with a lot of white space. Therefore to make the text effective, the line should be thick enough to get noticed and be clear as remember at long distance, very heavy letters become blobs, and very thin letters become invisible.

Large and legible type: Fonts for outdoor designs should be large enough to be visible from variable distances. Ornate script faces reduces clarity of text. Adequate spacing between letters, words and lines will enhance visibility. The relative size of letter characters is also an important consideration.

  • Script: Use straight line fonts. Ornate script faces and extensive contrast between thick and thin reduce legibility.
  • Text case: Upper and lower case letters when combined are easy to read than all upper case letters.
  • Kerning: Sufficient kerning between letters assures the legibility test from far distances. Tight kerning reduces legibility causing adjacent letters to attach together visually. While looking at a billboard from a distant place the letters on the board appear to be attached to each other. Without proper kerning "clear morn". could be interpreted as "dear mom".
  • Stacking: A single horizontal line of text allows rapid assimilation of a message without interruption. Multiple text lines increase the time needed to discern a message.
  • Leading: If more than one text line is necessary, use adequate leading between lines. When a line of text rides on the line below the interplay of descenders and ascenders it will make a message difficult to read.


Short Copy: The text should not have more than 10 words in total and the headline should have maximum 5 words. More the number of words, the less would be an individual’s ability to read them in few seconds.

Short Words: Instead of using an entire sentence, one single word can be used to describe the ad. The words should be short for faster comprehension.


Contrasting Colours: The human eye processes the wavelength variations of different colours in different ways, and this can result in ‘optical distortion’ that can make some colour combinations hard to read. This is best illustrated by the colour wheel below:-

The best colour combinations are dark with light and light with dark. Black contrasts best with light colours like light pink, light blue, white etc. White contrasts best with dark colours like black. Alternating colours, such as blue and yellow, produce best combinations since they exhibit good contrast. colours with similar contrasts like blue and green make poor combinations.

As a result, different combinations of font, colour and background vary in terms of how easy they are to read. The background colours should contrast with the surroundings i.e. sky, buildings, backdrop of board. In tests, the following combinations all performed differently. Number one performed best, number 16 worst:-

High contrast means better visibility. Dare to be bold! Being subtle at 600 feet doesn't work.

Colour Frequency and Vibration: Like sound waves, light rays have varying wave lengths or frequencies. Some pigments absorb light while others reflect it. Reflected frequencies are perceived as colour. Complementary colours, such as red and green, are not legible together because they have similar values that cause the wave lengths to vibrate. Any combination of similar colour value (even without vibration), will produce low visibility. Yellow and black are dissimilar in both hue and value providing the strongest contrast for out-of-home design. White complements colours with light values.


As the creative output for outdoor is advancing, the advertisers are increasingly using complex imagery in their outdoor ads. However, the requirements for effective outdoor advertising have remained the same. The imagery must be bold, clear and easy to understand. An image can speak a thousand words. Therefore it's selection should be according to the requirement of the ad.

Strong image against simple backgrounds create high-impact visuals. In the above illustration, the image on the left is a good example. The image should not get mixed with the background, it should appear separately on the background as in case of the image on the right.


What is the best way to convey the message/idea?

Less is More

Let’s examine this statement further with the following example..

Simplify Everything

The outdoor ad should focus on just one idea or message. Multiplicity of messages or idea leads to clutter and the viewer is unable to read and understand the ad in the few seconds, he has.

Product Identification

The outdoor ad should focus on just one idea or message. Multiplicity of messages or idea leads to clutter and the viewer is unable to read and understand the ad in the few seconds, he has.

Viewing Time

It is very important to consider the viewing time while designing the outdoor ad. In locations where the speed of travel is slower, the viewing time is more, hence there is more opportunity to read and see. An outdoor ad located at a curve or a diversion on highways or at blind turns would be ideal because of the slow traffic. However the speed of traffic is necessarily high on highways, say about 55mph. Therefore, an ad cluttered with too much information will be ineffective. The viewer will not get this information gradually over time. Instead the ad might be ignored as it would be too difficult to read and retain. An ideal billboard would be one which is simple but effective and in which the maximum number of words are 7. If you can read the entire message in 10 seconds, then your outdoor is effective else you must redesign it to make it more striking.


How important is the location of the media for the creative?

Outdoor advertising should convey the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, in the right place. Before deciding the location of the outdoor, it should be studied. The type of customers who pass from that particular route should be considered. Often, finding the relevant and hidden relationships between the message and the environment makes the advertising smart.

Usually the outdoor panels have a landscape format but some displays are portrait. The physical orientation of an outdoor unit will significantly affect the placement of design elements such as product identity and the headline. Orientation will also affect the overall balance of a design. It is important to remember that geography, demography and the orientation of a display are all necessary considerations when designing for the outdoor medium.


Should my creative vary with the target audience?

The above elements vary with the variation in the target. Product demonstration is particularly important to rural consumers whereas higher SEC, urban consumers want innovation and creativity (particularly relevant to younger audiences). Educated urban people would get attracted to ads that have certain level of creativity and the old ideas and styles would be useless for them. Therefore the creative should be designed keeping in mind the people towards whom it is targeted.

Basic Steps

1) Product Identification: Make sure the advertiser’s name/product is prominent.

2) Short Copy: 10 Words total, 5 in the headline is the standard guideline.

3) Short Words: Shorter words = faster comprehension.

4) Large And Legible Text: Make text large and bold, text will be viewed from distances of 400-800 feet.

5) Increase Line Thickness: Increase line and stroke thicknesses, at 600+ feet thin lines begin to optically vanish.

6) Make Small Objects Large: Think Large. Small objects enlarged are more effective than large object reduced.

7) Bold Colors: Be bold! Being subtle at 600+ is being invisible.

8) Highcontrast: Better contrast = better visibility.

9) Simplify Everything: Focus on a single idea or message. Less is More in Outdoor.

10) Pre-Test Your Creative: Print and view your creative from 15 feet for no longer than 5 seconds. This will provided a rough simulation of viewing from the road while driving past the billboard. Is every thing legible, can you read the entire message in the 5 seconds? If you can’t neither can the audience or consumer.