We’ve all seen billboards advertising everything from the next big television show to new real estate developments. We probably even have a few memorable billboards stuck in our heads—remember the Mark Wahlberg billboards for Calvin Klein? But are billboards an effective marketing tactic for small businesses? We examine the pros and cons of billboards and explain why your advertising money might be better spent elsewhere.

The Benefits of Billboard Advertising

Usually, a company leases billboard space through an agency for a set amount of time. Although companies can lease one billboard, they receive a better bargain by renting multiple billboards.

Depending on their location, billboards can reach a considerable number of people—over 7 million in Chicago and 4 million in Atlanta—and their weekly impressions can range in the hundreds of thousands. They’re also active 24 hours a day, so anyone who drives by the advertisement any time will see it (although if it’s a rotating digital billboard, airtime is shared with other companies). And if the billboard is done professionally, consumers won’t be able to tell how large or small your company is, so you can make a huge impression right off the bat.

The Drawbacks of Billboard Advertising

The Expense

Billboards tend to be expensive marketing tools. How expensive? Depending on the city, billboards cost anywhere from $3,000 a month in Milwaukee up to $23,000 a month in Boston. For small businesses, that’s a huge chunk of change. Some costs can be alleviated with a digital billboard, but then you have to share your advertising time with other companies.

The Lack of Personal Touch

The thing about billboards is that, unlike targeted social media advertising, every person who passes your billboard sees it. That’s great if you have a product that literally every person on the planet could benefit from (such as real estate or health insurance) or you’re advertising a big movie that’s appealing to the masses, but if you have a product that only a select group can use, you’re paying a lot of money to reach people who aren’t likely to become your customers. Your money can be more effectively spent on social media advertising, where you can reach out to the people in your target market.

If you’re not sure how to best optimize your social media, we have some tips to help your business stand out from the competition. And we can help you monitor your social media activity easily.

The Lack of Flexibility

Image credit: guteksk7 / Shutterstock

Chances are, your small business offers periodic specials and promotions, and you probably don’t need to let people know about them months in advance. Billboards usually go up for a set period of time—a month or six weeks (or longer)—but you probably don’t need to advertise one specific product or special for that long. And, billboards in good locations tend to require lots of notice. (You’ll likely have to contact the billboard company six months in advance since the best locations are only available a few times a year for lease.) That doesn’t lend itself to fun, spur-of-the-moment promotions.

Social media and local advertising give you flexibility in how you market your business. With social media advertisingBillboards: Are They Worth It, you can choose a set number of days to run a promotion and you can run the promotion at the last minute. With local media, you can start your advertising a few of weeks before your event.

The Bottom Line

Given the expense, and lack of personalization and flexibility, small businesses might be better off with local media or social media advertising. We’ve already written about some great (and inexpensive) ways to do that. After all, you have a target audience you need to reach in the most effective way possible. Save your money, get creative in your marketing campaigns instead.

Top image credit: Gimas / Shutterstock

Heidi Turner is a freelance content marketer and corporate writer. In addition to writing, she spends a good portion of her time wrangling her adopted animals (cats and a dog). You can read more about her work at www.heiditurner.ca