By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies

My family recently took a road trip spanning several thousand miles. With spotty cell coverage for much of the drive, I had a lot of time to look at billboards – how they are used, what they promote and what goal they are trying to achieve. If you work for the many financial institutions that struggle with whether or not to spend money on billboards, or with what message to advertise, these observations may help you clarify your decision.

Three objectives

The majority of billboard advertising fell into one of three categories. They were either promoting brand awareness, promoting a restaurant/entertainment venue at a specific exit or displaying a public service message (i.e. save water, go to church, don’t start forest fires, etc.). These are the only three objectives financial institutions should consider when incorporating billboards into their marketing plan. I saw a lot of billboards across 2,000 miles, and I don’t recall seeing one billboard promoting a specific product or rate. What differentiates your brand from others? That’s what you want on your billboard. A good example is this image of a McDonald’s billboard differentiating itself from expensive coffee places.

Less is more

The most effective billboards had very little copy. Sometimes it was as simple as “food” or “clean bathrooms” with a logo and an exit number. You have about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention with a billboard. Keep the message brief. A good rule of thumb is to use a business card as your guide. If it doesn’t fit on a business card without you having to squint, your message may be too long for a billboard. Six to eight words is your maximum. If you can’t do this, billboards are not for you. See examples here.


This is where many businesses struggle – especially credit unions with field of membership boundaries. Billboard owners will give you statistics on who drives the roads where their billboards are located, but much of it is subjective. How many drive that route every day? What is their gender and how much money do they make? Sometimes billboard demographics are a gamble. You also have to consider the type of road it is. I was traveling on interstate highways where exits were often few and far between. The billboards were targeting long distance drivers. A local highway where people most likely travel the same route every day might be a better choice for your financial institution.

Billboard advertising can be pricey and often involves a long-term commitment. If you are trying to capture the attention of an entire community, sometimes sponsoring festivals or other community events where your employees can speak one-on-one with potential customers and members is a more effective use of your marketing dollars. It comes down to your anticipated ROI based on how much money you plan to spend during a specific time frame and how many people you expect to reach.