Writing billboards is tough. You’re delivering a sales message at freeway speeds, and you absolutely, positively must cut through the barrage of information coming at your reader — who’s trying to keep a ton of steel nicely centered between the lines.
Billboards: An Example of KISS
New copywriters are barraged with formulas for writing great copy, but in this case, KISS might be the most critical (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Still, billboards require a bit more. So I’m introducing “KISSAM” — Keep It Simple, Stupid (And Memorable).
At freeway speeds, no one has time to puzzle out your clever little pun. Or unravel layers of meaning. But they need to remember your billboard for more than the second it takes to look at the next one.
You need to hit them right between the eyes — but do so in a way that amuses, entertains, or delivers a big, big benefit.
That’s a tall order. To do it, you need three things.
- A lot of ideas. Pages of them.
- Knowledge of billboard locations
- A constant reminder about what you’re doing
Ideas. Heaps of ’em.
Like any marketing project, you can’t arrive at the finish without first knowing the destination. You must be very, very clear about what you’re selling. And I’m not talking about the product — I’m talking about the product message.
Years ago I wrote a few billboards for a casino. Of course, we weren’t selling the casino. Our creative theme that year was “fun.”
If your client hasn’t settled on a creative theme, then make one of your own (and align it with their project/business goals).
Then sit down with a pad of paper and a favorite pen, pencil or crayon. And scratch out as many ideas as you can.
Then let them sit for a couple hours, and edit the hell out of them.
Then let them sit overnight.
The next day, ruthlessly edit away all the crap (saving the great-but-off-message ideas for another time).
What’s left should:
- Hit the reader with a benefit
- Be aligned with your creative theme
- Stick in the reader’s memory more than a millisecond
If not, repeat. Really.
You can write successful billboards without knowing their location. But you’ll write better ones if you do.
Remember the “fun” billboards I mentioned above? Our most distant billboard was 80 miles from the casino. The highway between was famously flat, straight, and boring. I don’t think anyone enjoyed the drive.
If I hadn’t known, I never could have written “You’d Enjoy the Next 80 Miles If You Were Headed Someplace Fun.”
It risked becoming an inside joke, but those who got it (and hopefully laughed) suddenly had a destination — a “fun” target to ponder for the next 70 minutes.
It told drivers we understood their predicament. And that we offered a way out.
The good news? It was mentioned more than a few times by casino patrons.
So know your locations. And if you don’t know, don’t make assumptions. I once saw a roadside billboard urging a driver to “Exit Right” for great food.
Problem is, the restaurant was on the left. There was no exit on the right.
A Constant Reminder
Tape “KISSAM” at the top of your computer monitor, and never forget your creative theme — or the idea that your concept and visual are getting read at 70 mph by drivers with a couple of screaming kids in the back seat.
What are you giving them that’s memorable?
By the way — KISSAM applies to visuals too. Keep them clean, and bounce them off the headlines to add meaning.
In fact — in what is the Underground’s first public policy proposal — I suggest we levy a tax on all the too-complex, wildly confusing billboards peppering the planet.
We’d have enough money to establish the Old Copywriter’s Retirement Home. Or take everyone to Hawaii for a week.
Remember — vote for me.
Here’s Something to Shoot For
One of the most successful billboards I ever saw was located right in the heart of the Silicon Valley — a “geek traffic corridor” of the highest order.
The billboard? A very leggy woman in a short-skirted business suit supported by this brilliant headline:
“While You’re Watching Me, Who’s Watching Your Network?”
Sex, a fear appeal, and product identification — in one very funny, “caught you staring” headline/image combo. I wish I’d written it.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
[tags]billboards, billboard writing, copywriter, freelance copywriter, freelance copywriting, marketing, how to write billboards[/tags]
Posted in Copywriting and tagged design.
Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.” We also now have a PDF of these 200 prompts.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter and get five new Student Opinion questions delivered to you every week.
What issues do you care most about? What topics do you find yourself discussing most passionately, whether online, at the dinner table, in the classroom or with your friends?
Our annual Student Editorial Contest invites you to write an evidence-based persuasive piece on an issue that matters to you. To help jump-start your brainstorming, we have gathered a list of 200 writing prompts from our daily Student Opinion feature that invite you to take a stand.
Though you won’t be limited to these topics for the contest, you’ll see that our list touches on every aspect of modern life, from politics to sports, culture, education and technology. We hope the range inspires you, and we hope the fact that each question links to at least one related Times article gives you a starting point for finding evidence.
So skim the list below to think about the topic you’d most like to take on.
For more information, here are links to our spring 2014 editorial-writing contest, a list of winners from that contest and a related lesson plan on argumentative writing.
- Is Cheating Getting Worse?
- Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
- Does Your School Hand Out Too Many A’s?
- Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
- Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
- How Seriously Should We Take Standardized Tests?
- How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests?
- Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?
- Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School?
- Do Schools Provide Students With Enough Opportunities to Be Creative?
- What Are You Really Learning at School?
- How Important Is Arts Education?
- Does Gym Help Students Perform Better in All Their Classes?
- Who Should Be Able to See Students’ Records?
- Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education?
- What Is the Right Amount of Group Work in School?
- Is Your School Day Too Short?
- Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea?
- Should the Dropout Age Be Raised?
- Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
- How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
- Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment?
- How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
- How Should Schools Address Bullying?
- Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards?
- What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools?
- Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
- Does Class Size Matter?
- Should All Students Get Equal Space in a Yearbook?
- Is Prom Worth It?
- How Important Are Parent-Teacher Conferences?
- Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool?
- Should Colleges Use Admissions Criteria Other Than SAT Scores and Grades?
- What Criteria Should Be Used in Awarding Scholarships for College?
- Do You Support Affirmative Action?
- Do College Rankings Matter?
- How Necessary Is a College Education?
- Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors?
- Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive?
- Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
- Are You Distracted by Technology?
- Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
- Has Facebook Lost Its Edge?
- Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
- Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired?
- Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?
- What Should the Punishment Be for Acts of Cyberbullying?
- Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?
- Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?
- Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class?
- Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools?
- Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
- How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone?
- Should Companies Collect Information About You?
- Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
- Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful?
- Do You Worry We Are Filming Too Much?
- Would You Want a Pair of Google’s Computer Glasses?
- How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays?
- What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future?
- How Many Text Messages Are Too Many?
- How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?
- Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies?
- Do TV Shows Like ‘16 and Pregnant’ Promote or Discourage Teenage Pregnancy?
- Does TV Capture the Diversity of America Yet?
- Is TV Too White?
- Is TV Stronger Than Ever, or Becoming Obsolete?
- Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?
- What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time?
- What Artists or Bands of Today Are Destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
- What Musician, Actor or Author Should Be a Superstar, but Hasn’t Quite Made It Yet?
- Will Musical Training Make You More Successful?
- Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport?
- Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors?
- Can a Video Game Be a Work of Art?
- Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
- When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
- What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
- What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
- To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
- Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
- Where Is the Line Between Truth and Fiction?
- Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
- Do We Need Art in Our Lives?
- What Makes a Good Commercial?
- Why Did a Cheerios Ad Attract So Many Angry Comments Online?
- Does Pop Culture Deserve Serious Study?
- Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
- Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
- Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
- How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
- Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks?
- Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
- What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women?
- How Do You Feel About Rihanna and Chris Brown Getting Back Together?
- Do Fraternities Promote Misogyny?
- Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles?
- Why Aren’t More Girls Choosing to Pursue Careers in Math and Science?
- Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men?
- Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?
- Are Women Better at Compromising and Collaborating?
- Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?
- If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
- Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football?
- Should College Football Players Get Paid?
- When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying?
- Has Baseball Lost Its Cool?
- Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense?
- Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots?
- Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights?
- Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports?
- Is Cheerleading a Sport?
- How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay?
- Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players?
- Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals?
- Should Sports Betting Be Legal Everywhere?
- Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports?
- Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community?
- What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
- If You Were Governor of Your State, How Would You Spend a Budget Surplus?
- When Is the Use of Military Force Justified?
- What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security?
- Should the U.S. Be Spying on Its Friends?
- Do You Trust Your Government?
- What Do You Think of the Police Tactic of Stop-and-Frisk?
- Do Rich People Get Off Easier When They Break the Law?
- Should Rich People Have to Pay More Taxes?
- Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?
- Is It Principled, or Irresponsible, for Politicians to Threaten a Shutdown?
- Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations?
- Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing?
- How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
- Should Guns Be Permitted on College Campuses?
- Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
- What Is Your Relationship With Guns?
- Do You Support or Oppose the Death Penalty?
- When Should Juvenile Offenders Receive Life Sentences?
- Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies?
- When Do You Become an Adult?
- When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars?
- Should the Morning-After Pill Be Sold Over the Counter to People Under 17?
- Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription?
- Is Modern Culture Ruining Childhood?
- Are Adults Hurting Young Children by Pushing Them to Achieve?
- How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior?
- What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
- Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior?
- How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex?
- Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
- How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?
- Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want?
- How Should Educators and Legislators Deal With Minors Who ‘Sext’?
- Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough?
- Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers?
- Are Antismoking Ads Effective?
- Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers?
- Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause?
- How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From?
- Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?
- Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’?
- Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
- Should Marijuana Be Legal?
- Should Students Be Required to Take Drug Tests?
- Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble?
- Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
- Can Money Buy You Happiness?
- Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier?
- Are We Losing the Art of Listening?
- Do People Complain Too Much?
- Can Kindness Become Cool?
- Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?
- How Important Is Keeping Your Cool?
- When Should You Compromise?
- Is Your Generation More Self-Centered Than Earlier Generations?
- Can You Be Good Without God?
- Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
- What Words or Phrases Should Be Retired in 2014?
- What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
- Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?
- How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion?
- How Long Is It O.K. to Linger in a Cafe or Restaurant?
- Does Keeping a Messy Desk Make People More Creative?
- How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?
- Should Scientists Try to Help People Beat Old Age So We Can Live Longer Lives?
- Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate?
- When Is It O.K. to Replace Human Limbs With Technology?
- Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
- Should Fertilized Eggs Be Given Legal ‘Personhood’?
- How Concerned Are You About Climate Change?
- Is It Wrong for a Newspaper to Publish a Front-Page Photo of a Man About to Die?
- What Causes Should Philanthropic Groups Finance?
- Should Charities Focus More on America?
- Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
- Did a Newspaper Act Irresponsibly by Publishing the Addresses of Gun Owners?
- Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
- What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?
- Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses?
- How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?
Technology and Social Media
Arts and Media: TV, Music, Video Games and Literature
Sports and Athletics
Politics and the Legal System
Parenting and Childhood
Health and Nutrition
Personal Character and Morality Questions