Brilliance in Billboards: The Six Second Rule.

Six seconds. Seven words.

I’ve created advertising campaigns for digital, print, and some out-of-home media (supermarket and doctor’s office TV networks). I never had the opportunity to work on billboard advertising. However, billboards are my favorite type of ad, due to the six second rule, which dictates a seven-word text maximum.

“Less is more! Remember the KISS rule!” That’s me, yelling at imploring marketing team members at jobs over the years to focus on brevity in copywriting. It’s hard to do. At my last job (head of marketing for an e-commerce company) we executed a lot of email marketing campaigns. It was always a struggle to get the important idea across in the time that the recipient spent reading the email.

Good billboard ads can create a lasting impression—and build brand awareness—with just a few words. Viewers of billboard ads are usually moving fast as they drive by. So, they only have a handful of seconds to take in the message.

Narragansett lager beer billboard advertisement
Coca-Cola have a coke billboard advertisement sign 1950s
Stetson hats early 1900s billboard advertisement
City Light Seattle Electricity billboard advertisement
Dispatch Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper billboard advertisement
Budweiser the great American lager billboard advertisement
BBC World see both sides of the story billboard advertisement
Devotion Pass It On billboard advertisement
come melt under the sun snow billboard sign
Roadside billboard that says Psychic wanted: you know where to apply.
Sleep with people from around the world billboard advertisement
Free Radio Your new best friend billboard advertisement
McDonalds breakfast billboard
Geico 75 years billboard advertisement
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas neon sign
Narragansett Lager Beer
Stetson Hats
City Light
Dispatch Newspaper
BBC World
Pass It On
Psychic Wanted
Dictionary Hostel
Free Radio
Las Vegas
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A seven-word billboard photo gallery

A number of sources say that effective billboards use seven words maximum. In the photo gallery above I’ve compiled some noteworthy billboards, all of which use seven words of copy (or a word or two less). Some of the images I found are nearly 100 years old, and they too depict seven-word billboard ads! It seems to be the ideal text length if you want your message to be smartly creative, in addition to being short and sweet.

In my gallery, the messages on the modern-day billboards are rather clever, in addition to being brief. The billboards from the early-to-mid 20th Century are not nearly as witty…but they do seem to contain a carefully-chosen group of five to seven words.

More reasons to like billboard advertising

Another reason I appreciate billboard ads is because they’re effective. Recent advertising research proves that out-of-home (OOH) ads have much higher levels of ad recall (people remembering them) than ads on live and streaming television, podcasts, radio, print, and online. This may be why top brands have increased their OOH ad spending in recent years, says Allie Decker in this Hubspot article. In fact, 79% of the top 100 OOH advertisers increased their spending in 2021.

Of course, effective billboard advertising isn’t just about the text+image creative. Successful advertising campaigns are dependent on a sound strategy that supports marketing and business goals.

“Creative without strategy is called art. Creative with strategy is called advertising.”

— Jef Richards, professor and chairman of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University

Advertising strategy is a whole other subject to discuss…in another blog post!

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