Should You Use Billboards as Part of Your Political Campaign Strategy?

The professional political community is split on the effectiveness of billboards in political campaigns.  Some professional operatives do not use them under any circumstances.  They believe that billboards, which are not very targetable, and which cost a decent amount of money for good placement, are a waste of campaign resources.  Other consultants think that billboards can be a good use of money under certain circumstances.

I agree with the latter group: I think that under certain circumstances, billboards can be a good use of the campaign’s time and money.

Decision Points for Using Billboards

There are three things you need to take into account as you make a decision as to whether or not billboards are a smart use of your limited campaign budget.  Billboards are a good decision only if all three of the following are true:

The Candidate Needs to Raise Name ID – Every candidate needs to raise their name ID somewhat, but billboards are particularly well suited for candidates who are almost completely unknown, particularly if they are well-funded.  Political billboards’ sole purpose is to raise a candidate’s name ID.

Good Placement Exists – Which billboards are available to the campaign?  Are they (a) within the district, (b) viewed by lots of drivers, and (c) viewed by lots of drivers who likely live in the district?

The Costs are Reasonable – Billboards can be relatively cheap, or relatively expensive.  If the billboards you want to rent are not reasonably priced, skip them and plow the money into targeted direct mail.

If You’re Using Billboards, Use Them Right…

If your campaign decides that billboards would be a good fit for your strategy, be sure to design them right – billboards are essentially giant yard signs in the sky.  Design them that way.

Include the candidate’s name, the office that the candidate is seeking, and the message or tagline.  That’s it, unless you have a short, pithy website URL (like, in which case you can include that as well.  Be sure that the color scheme fits your campaign’s overall color scheme.

Other Billboard Options

There are two other types of billboards that I have seen campaigns attempt, with varying degrees of success.

The first is the negative billboard, where the campaign uses the billboard like a negative campaign piece, attacking their opponent.  In my opinion, this rarely works, as voters don’t trust billboard headlines the way they might trust a mail piece headline that is backed up by lots of facts and figures.

The second alternative type of billboard is the endorsement billboard, where a campaign that gets a really great endorsement from a universally-known person in the district puts up a billboard with a picture of the endorser and a quote endorsing the candidate.  This type of billboard can work well, so long as the endorser is really, very well known (the CEO of the largest business in town, a local celebrity, the state governor, etc.).

Only you can decide whether or not billboard fit into the plan and budget of your campaign.  If you use them, keep them simple, seek the best placement possible, and use them to complement your other communications efforts.


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2 comments… add one
  • Great thoughts, Ben! Take note, everyone: as I said in the article, there really are two points of view on political billboards. Ben’s been involved in politics for a long time, and points out some of the cons for using billboards.

  • In general, I’m opposed to billboards. There are exceptions, but biggest reason for me to avoid billboards is that there is a much less expensive alternative that offers additional benefits: yard signs. As you say, they are essentially ‘giant yard signs.’

    Now, I’m biased, so you can take my advice with a grain of salt, but hear me out:

    – The cost of 20 or 30 yard signs to equal the same size of the a billboard is a fraction of the cost.
    – You can buy yard signs in nearly as giant of a size as a billboard.
    – You can put a yard sign in a voters yard to demonstrate social proof. You can’t do that on a billboard.
    – You can reward a volunteer by giving them a sign.

    Playing devil’s advocate with myself:

    – Billboards are bigger, so you can put a campaign slogan on them or some other content that you can’t on a sign.
    – Billboards are harder to miss than signs.

    Oh, and one other thing that campaigns should keep in mind… Direct voter contact identifies, persuades, and get voters out to vote. Indirect voter contact, like billboards and signs, get voter out to vote and also increase candidate name recognition. Campaigns with low candidate name recognition, need to think about how they can increase candidate name recognition as part of a winning campaign.

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