We saw a lot of billboards on our epic 4,000 mile cross-country road trip. A whole lot. We were informed we should turn to Jesus, or a personal injury attorney, or just turn off the highway for clean rooms, free waffles, and wifi. I was also reminded of the importance of readable fonts and the seven-word rule as I attempted to decipher various billboards at a speed of 80 miles an hour.

Then this one caught my eye: A picture of a huge sausage held by a girl in pigtails. The headline: “Meet our Meats – brats & sausages.” Okay, here’s my beef: “Meet our Meats” was a perfectly fine headline. And the gigantic sausage communicated “sausage” just fine. And brats are sausages, aren’t they? So there you have a billboard with a bunch of extra words.

How did this happen? A pretty excellent headline is polluted by words that never had to be there. And those extra words aren’t just taking up space. They’re actually preventing people from getting the full message of the billboard. Because those two words (three if you count the ampersand) are making it much less likely that a driver will see the brand. How will they ever know where to go to meet those meats?

K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple

Brevity is a cardinal rule in billboard advertising, and it’s not hard to understand why. The conditions are not conducive to leisurely reading: Potential customers are speeding past at 80 (plus) miles per hour, sharing the road with semi-trucks and impatient travelers. The message on a billboard needs to register in seconds.

One of the best ads we saw had this headline: “75¢ Cones.” It didn’t even need to include the words “ice cream,” because there was a giant picture of soft serve. Simple. Easy. Tempting. The only thing left for the ad to do was tell me which exit to take – which it did, thank you.

So why does the ice cream ad work and the sausages fail? I think it’s a matter of self-doubt. Some creative person came up with the delightful headline, “Meet our Meats,” and the sausage maker couldn’t leave enough alone. I can imaging the conversation:

“Do you love the headline?”

“Yes, but we’re known for our sausages and brats.”

“Thus the giant sausage picture.”

“What if it said, ‘Meet our sausages and brats.’?”


“No really, I get it. Meet our Meats. I just want to make sure people know we sell sausages and brats, too. We’ve got to make that clear.”

“You’re the client.”

Don’t let this happen to you! 

Don’t be the killer of a great ad. It’s tempting – you want to make sure to include all the great information about your company. But keep in mind it can be at the expense of a clear and compelling message. And it can even detract from communicating your brand.

This is not just important for billboards. It’s rare that consumers will give you extra time when you have an overly wordy web site, email, or advertisement. You’ve got to say what you need to say and respect your reader’s patience. Don’t give in to the temptation to over-communicate.

If you’re looking for help with your marketing content – short or long – I can help!

Copyright 2020 Liz Behlke