If it feels like you can’t drive a mile without seeing a political advertisement on a billboard, it’s not your imagination. Politics is a booming category right now, and the data backs up what you see on the roads.
During first quarter of this year, political spending was up 90 percent over the same period in the last midterm cycle back in 2018, according to the Out of Home Advertising Association of America. And when you consider that came during a particularly tense political time during Donald Trump’s presidency, the jump really means something.
It could be another record year for political ads and out of home will reap the benefits.
But are political groups using the medium to their best advantage? We’d argue no. Like any billboard, creative is the key to a great political ad, and we’ve seen a lot lacking during this election cycle. That prompted us to come up with these tips for how to make a great political billboard. Follow them, and your advertisement will have the impact you desire at a crucial time.
This could be a guideline for any billboard, not just political ones, but it bears repeating. When drivers whiz past your ad, they only have three seconds to read it and digest the message. Hammering home a single point will be most effective. Keep in mind these guidelines:
2. Include Your Candidate’s Name
The biggest, boldest lettering should spell out your candidate’s name. This is the key information on the billboard. You want people to recognize the name when they vote.
A poll found that before the last midterm election, a third of registered voters were unfamiliar with the name of their party’s candidate just weeks before the election. A third! That raises a lot of questions about our nation’s media literacy, yes, but it also underscores the need to repeat, repeat and repeat again the candidate’s name.
3. Don’t Include the Opponent’s Name
So by that same token, mentioning the name of your opponent is probably the most egregious error we see with political billboards. You’ve probably heard that any press is good press. Well, the same applies to advertising when it’s something potential voters will only see for three seconds. When you mention the name of the person you’re running against, you put them top of mind instead of putting yourself there.
Essentially, you give away valuable real estate by splashing their name across it. People digest that name and little else about the board. So what do they remember 15 minutes later when they get home? The name and not the message behind it.
Same caveat goes for pictures. You can put yourself on the billboard, but don’t put your opponent there. That just ups their recognition factor and can, again, backfire on you by raising their profile.
4. Mention Your Party Affiliation …
… but only f you live in a clearly red or blue state. In those states, many people vote along party lines, so when they see “Democrat” or “Republican,” they’re already mentally checking off the box on the voting machine.
However, if you live in a swing state, leave the party affiliation off. People are more likely to make decisions based on platform and personality, not party, and including your affiliation could have an undesired effect on Independents who have a strong opinion on something either political party did recently. (These days, there’s always something.)
Of course, this guidance is a bit different for a primary election. Though we’re past primary season in most states now, if you are running in a primary, you should include your affiliation so people know which ballot they can find you on. It’s possible to lose an election where you should have an advantage just because people don’t know which side you want to represent.
5. Put up the Legalese, But Make it Small
Political advertising is governed by legislation to make it transparent. Voters need to know who’s behind the ads. This helps contextualize them and give them the perspective they need to make a decision. These disclaimers must be displayed prominently enough that people can read and understand them.
So don’t make the disclaimer a focal point of the ad, since it’s boring, but do ensure people can see it so that you don’t violate laws and have the ad pulled down.
6. Find the Right Place to Put the Billboard
Out of home advertising is always about location, but it may be even more so when it comes to political ads. A political ad only works if the right people see it, so you have to target your ad buy carefully. Research the possibilities and make sure the local demographic (or the commuters who pass by) matches your target.
Are you trying to reach swing voters in a certain neighborhood? If you run for local office, can you buy your billboard within your district? You basically throw money away if you don’t reach the right voters.
7. Include a Fantastic Slogan
Look, there may never be another “I Like Ike” or “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” Those simple slogans won the presidency, and they worked because they were catchy and memorable … without actually saying anything about the candidate. So think of something catchy, even if it doesn’t totally make complete sense, and slap it across the billboard. As long as it has your candidate’s name and sounds positive, it could get a good reaction.