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Is Billboard Advertising Effective in 2015?

Date published: August 17, 2015
Last updated: August 17, 2015

Hi. My name is Dan, and I’m a marketing snob.

I’ll be the first to admit that I cringe at the word “advertising.” I prefer terms like marketing, inbound, newsjacking and promoting.

So when, as the director of marketing for my company, I was approached with the idea to create a billboard campaign, I was sure it would fail epically.

However, I did see value in testing my theory. I also thought it would be interesting to implement some of the tracking tactics we use in digital marketing. Here’s how we made it happen, and the effects of our work.

The Back Story

AmeriFirst Home Mortgage had an opportunity to offer a “green grant” to home buyers called the PowerSaver Grant. Essentially, home buyers enrolled in a specific mortgage program who met the requirements for energy-efficient home improvements would receive money back at the closing table.

Of course, we immediately set our sights on owning the keywords surrounding this program. Terms like PowerSaver, PowerSaver Grant, FHA PowerSaver and “green grant for home buyers” all went into the hopper. Those were relatively easy to optimize for, and we saw near-immediate success.

The problem with this is that not many home buyers knew about the grant and therefore few were searching for those very specific branded terms. We could win in SEO, but if no one was searching, did it even matter?

The Advertising Idea

Inbound can work wonders for your marketing. It’s usually much more cost-effective when compared to traditional advertising because it costs a lot of money to reach an established audience. That’s effectively what radio stations, television stations, major websites, and billboards are: an entity has the audience you want to reach, so you pay them as a gatekeeper.

Since the keywords we focused on were essentially unknown to the greater population, we decided to buy into the captured audience ideal. We commissioned a TV commercial and launched a billboard campaign.

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TV Commercial

While the TV commercial looked great and we used it across multiple media sources—TV, web, social & email—we found very little return. Unless you can saturate the airwaves across multiple stations/channels, regions and time slots, it’s very difficult to capture attention on TV.

Think about it: As a consumer, do you rely on TV to gather information if you’re not even in an awareness stage?

The downside to the TV commercial was that we used a static toll-free number and our branded website URL. Because this commercial would be shown in multiple markets and across varied media, we kept it the same for all. We did not use tracking phone numbers or different URLs.

To measure the impact we added “Did you see our TV commercial?” to our forms related to the PowerSaver Grant, and we took benchmarks on web traffic to our PowerSaver pages. Few people marked yes on the question, and traffic didn’t jump in the markets where the commercial aired.

We predicted the impact of a TV commercial wouldn’t really be felt, and we were right. Tracking phone calls with custom numbers could have helped track more potential leads, but producing different commercials for multiple markets with unique information on each one adds up, growing the cost and reducing ROI.


We turned to the billboard campaign as a test for capturing attention and tracking leads. Of course, my initial reaction to the idea was negative. I thought for sure that drivers in our area wouldn’t care about some random billboard. I was already prepared for failure.

When we met with the creative team at our local outdoor advertising firm, we discussed the idea that we wanted to keep the message simple and memorable and give viewers a clear call to action that we could measure. We also decided that a digital sign was better than a printed, static sign.

Our message was simple: Go green, save green, get green. We kept the AmeriFirst logo unobtrusive and offered the URL as the point of contact. We knew that even if you didn’t remember the full website, you could search for the terms and find our content.

The Results

After everything was set physically we had to make it measurable, so we set up the URL to redirect to our PowerSaver information landing page, complete with a tracking code. We use HubSpot for our marketing needs, and it was relatively easy to get it all set up. Over a 12 month period, we watched the views begin to build, tracking views all the way to leads and even closed customers.
The billboard campaign was more successful than I projected. Combining inbound and outbound helped drive a few hundred new views to the website, converting more than nine percent into leads. It even brought in at least two tracked customers.

However, those wins come at a price. Billboards are expensive (the cost for this campaign was $5500 per month for four different signs) and take a long time to capture attention. The campaign ran a full year over several locations in our area. At the end of the day, the ROI just wasn’t there. Those two customers essentially cost $33,000 each.

AmeriFirst PowerSaver Billboard campaign

Looking at the inbound campaign we ran for about 18 months, we had better success. You can see more views, a better conversion rate (15.5 percent) and more clients. The budget for this was much smaller, therefore much more valuable.

Our Takeaway

Outbound advertising is far from dead. You can use it with some success to reach a broader audience that may not be at the awareness stage and searching for your solution—your product or service. However, combining some of the inbound tactics and tracking technology we now have will help you ensure you’re not shooting in the dark. It’s just one of the handful of things inbound marketers can learn from outbound marketing.

The other factor for consideration is the cost. At AmeriFirst, our advertising budget revolves around building trust through educational content, relevant information, and authentic interaction. Many businesses are in the same boat. Unless you have a large budget for special advertising buys, such traditional advertising tactics may remain as something you use sparingly.


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