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 VoteSmith.com), 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.