Measuring Success with Out-of-Home Ads

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  • 8/4/2020
    One of the things marketers have always excelled at is seeing ad space where others see nothing. That’s not the wall of a building on East 30th Street or the side of a highway—it’s the perfect place for a little good old fashioned advertising!
    Out-of-home (OOH) is the world’s oldest advertising medium, and it’s managed to stick around all these years for a reason. It’s effective and can hold its own in your media mix. However, unlike digital media, it can be difficult to measure success with your OOH efforts.
    When ROI isn’t always the answer, there are several other ways you can report on a successful campaign—and prove to your marketing team that plastering your world-famous falafel 20 feet high on the side of Route 66 was a good idea.

    What is out-of-home advertising?

    OOH can encompass any advertising that is affixed to a physical structure outside of the home. This includes roadside billboards, transit ads on buses and trains, digital displays and more. 
    When people think about basic OOH advertising, they are generally referring to highway billboards. These billboards are the most common type of OOH ads and usually the easiest to obtain.

    Why use out-of-home advertising?

    OOH ads put your message in places where large amounts of people are almost guaranteed to see it, making it a great tool for brand awareness. Plastering your message on the side of the highway or on the exterior wall of a building in a busy city are great techniques for widespread reach.
    Using an impactful, to-the-point message also cuts through the usual noise that advertisements have to battle. A few words on a 50-foot sign are fairly hard to miss, no?

    How can I purchase out-of-home ads?

    If you’re just starting out with OOH ads, you should call an experienced agency or partner for help. You may assume that the purchasing process is as simple as calling a number and asking to put your ad up, but OOH ads have their own nuances and industry terminology.
    When you purchase an OOH ad, you will receive information on ad space that will look something like this:
    The finer details can be confusing to beginners, so bringing in a third partner can help make sure you get the best deal and set yourself up for success. An experienced agency can consult their own out-of-home partner vendors and do the heavy lifting for you. That way, you don’t have to conduct extra research about space availability, size, direction, placement and recommended posting time frames. To help you with the final decision process, here are some of the OOH ad basics you should know.


    OOH ads are typically purchased in four-week increments on a broadcast calendar. Broadcast calendars differ from standard calendars because they start on Mondays instead of Sundays. This unique calendar helps with planning in, you guessed it, four-week increments. While April 1-20 marks a standard calendar, a broadcast calendar would run from April 6 to May 3. Knowing this schedule is especially important if you have a board that coincides with specific promotion dates.
    As a workaround, you can also opt to advertise on digital out-of-home platforms, like electronic signs on public transportation stops or digital billboards on the highway. If you have a timely message, these ads can be changed out with the press of a button, saving you the labor and installation cost of a brand new, traditional vinyl board.


    Once you know how long your ad will run, you can pick advertising spaces you feel suit you. Many businesses that are based locally will approach the buying process with a specific billboard or location in mind, maybe one they drive by each morning. If the location is not “permed out” (i.e. another brand has a contract on the space for multiple upcoming months), then the interested party can move forward with renting it out.
    Other companies aren’t as sure or aren’t based locally and have to rely on information in the placement selection process. In this case, the two main factors brands consider are usually budget and impressions. The company that owns the ad space will provide data estimating how many people see the board on a daily, monthly or weekly basis. Boards with more impressions cost more. If you have the budget, then by all means, run with a high-traffic board, but most brands will want to find a sweet spot that gives high impressions while staying within budget. Again, an OOH advertising agency can help with this final decision.

    Messaging and creative

    When it comes to OOH ads, it’s important to be purposeful with your visuals. Prepare your campaign message and cater it for the outdoors. Your ad should be extremely quick and to the point with impactful visuals that uphold your brand. The general rule of thumb is seven words or less.
    For example, many personal injury lawyers use highway billboards to build their personal brand by including a headshot, their tagline or an extremely short description of their services and a website or phone number where they can be contacted. (You know, for those people whipping out their phones on the highway to type in a full number at 60 mph.) Restaurants trying to attract customers use appealing photos of food, short messaging with directions and their restaurant logo to make it easier for drivers to find them once off the highway.
    Would you pull over on the highway to read all of this?
    Or could you get all the information you need from this?

    A driver cannot read a board with too much text, nor will a pedestrian stop and read a full paragraph on an ad on the side of the bus shelter. Use minimalist advertising techniques to quickly get your message across. Your ad should be one of multiple touch points your audience sees, meaning there’s no need to let them in on every bit of information you have up front!

    How should I integrate OOH ads in my media mix?

    In our experience, OOH ads are best used when they enhance a campaign. They should be a part of the media mix, but shouldn’t necessarily be the only element in the mix.
    Think of it this way: A brand can run great TV or radio ads that people remember, but those ads will only reach people when they’re tuned in to these media types. With OOH ads, you can reach these same people on their commute, away from the television. It’s a great way to add another touch point into your audience’s experience with your brand. Your media mix works that much harder when it includes OOH ads.
    That being said, if it’s the best decision for your brand, you absolutely can run only OOH ads for a campaign. Just be prepared to take into account metrics other than ROI, like brand awareness and recall or website traffic.

    Measuring out-of-home advertising success

    Billboards and transit signs do not provide the most inviting path to purchase for consumers, and bottom line revenue may not always be the best metric for success with OOH efforts. For many middle-market brands, it can be time consuming or difficult to measure brand awareness. So how can you tell if you’ve run a great OOH advertising campaign? 
    The easiest way is through your call-to-action (CTA). Before you create and place your board, be sure to define your KPIs. Then, place a call to action related to your most important KPIs. Some examples include:

    You can also opt to report on impressions, but keep in mind that impressions are provided before the board goes up and are an estimate from the company that owns the board. There may be other measurements for success that can offer a bit more insight.

    Can I A/B test OOH ads?

    For many middle-market businesses, A/B testing is seen as being cost-prohibitive. But if you’re looking to optimize your OOH strategy, it’s absolutely possible to A/B test these ads. Obtain a second ad placement and change one of the following elements:
    • City location: Place the same ad in a different city.
    • Design and message: Run one ad. After it runs for a specified period of time, place an ad with a different design or message in the same (or a close) location and compare results.
    • CTA: Use a different CTA in the same ad. For example, run one ad with a phone number and another with a web address.
    • Local location: Test two different locations in the same city to see which performs better.

    May your OOH ads see success!

    Like we said, there’s a reason OOH advertising has withstood the test of time. Compared to the more advanced, modern digital advertising options, it’s a fairly easy medium to access. It also works for businesses of all sizes. For many small businesses, local OOH ads are their bread and butter. But mid-size brands and corporations can also see great success with strategic billboards and transit signs. 
    Looking to enhance your media mix with out-of-home advertising? We happen to have an excellent, in-house OOH ads team ready to help. Learn more about our services here.
    About the author::J.P. Krainz is a Account Services Group Manager at thunder::tech. When not making client’s dreams come true, he enjoys rocking the drums and raising children to be future Congress men and women. 
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