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Designing creative billboard ads on a budget - a guide for small business owners

2 June 2023

Billboard advertising is a great way for small business owners to connect with potential customers and share their products or services with a wide audience.

Research shows that digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH), of which digital billboards are a type, is one of the most impactful forms of advertising. In a 2022 study, 80% of people said they found DOOH ads to be informative, 31% found them entertaining and 24% called them ‘creative’.


Although many will connect billboards to the kind of flashy ads that you see on Times Square in the United States, the truth is that they can have an impact much closer to home: many small businesses and local community members use billboards to promote their services or products. With the right strategy in place, you can develop advertising billboard designs that deliver strong ROI, while also being cost-effective.

In this article, we’ll explore how you can make a creative billboard on a limited budget, share some of our top design tips, and give you inspiration for your campaign.

What makes a billboard successful?

The most successful billboard ads are the most creative. And while you might think of creativity as something that comes intuitively, there are definitive, well-researched ways you can make your ads more creatively engaging.

Copy that is written in bold font, for example, can drive online searches by as much as 58%. Humour, website features and a prominent product shot are also qualitatively shown to improve the impact of billboard ads.² These techniques help to make billboards more effective as:

They are eye-catching and grab the attention of potential customers.

They are easy to read and put clarity above design.

They give the viewer intention, provided through a single call-to-action.

Now that we’ve covered the top features that make a billboard ad successful, let’s delve into the steps you can take to design a creative billboard while on a budget.

Suggested reading: Read our article, ‘How an OOH marketing strategy can improve your online visibility’, to discover how billboards can be used to boost online searches.

1. Assessing your target audience

In order to attract the right buyers, businesses need to know who their ideal audience is before beginning any marketing or advertising campaigns.

If you already have a good understanding of your target audience, try delving even deeper: what does their average day look like? What do they like or dislike? Where do they typically spend their time and how might they want to change this? All of these small details can help you gain new and exciting insights that will fuel your marketing efforts.

The three core steps to follow are:

  • Discover your ideal audience and develop in-depth profiles of who they are and why your product is relevant to them.
  • Determine where they are and know the places they frequent in and out of high-traffic areas.
  • Do market research to learn how your audience typically engages with your product.

With this information in hand, you can go about developing a successful billboard campaign.

2. Determining the scale of your billboard advertising

Billboard advertising is used by both large-scale and small businesses. The reasons for this? It is low-cost, highly effective and can make your marketing budget go further. In fact, OOH is reported as being one of the top three most cost-effective types of advertising.

Before running an ad, businesses should think about the scale of their campaign. Will it be a small, targeted local campaign? Or will it extend countrywide? Following that, it’s time to think about the size of the billboard itself.

The two most popular types of billboards are:

  • 6 sheet: These can be either paper or digital, and are often found at street level, such as at bus stops or on busy high streets.
  • 48 sheet: These are landscape in format and are typically seen alongside motorways and other high-traffic areas.

You can use a mix of these different sizes or a single type, depending on your budget and campaign goals. It’s important to keep in mind that the billboard advertising cost will vary widely depending on the number of people who will see it (impressions) and the type of people seeing it (demographic).

Pro tip: Alight Media offers advertising with no minimum order value — allowing you to run a campaign as large or small as you would like.

3. Choosing a billboard format and location

Billboards provide you with the opportunity to speak directly to people who might be interested in your product or service. To make your billboard advertising design as effective as possible, you need to choose a format and location that will speak to your audience.

In fact, research has found that 39% of mobile searches for businesses are influenced by a person’s location needs.² So the more strategically you think about the location of your ad, the more likely you are to get strong results.

We explain more about choosing the location of your OOH ad in our article, ‘How to choose the best OOH locations for your ads’.

Once you’ve got your ad location decided, start thinking about what people are doing and seeing in that area. This will help you determine what format you would like.

FAQ: I want to go for a digital format. How do I ensure high billboard quality and resolution?

Ensuring your billboards are of a good quality starts at the design stage when you are choosing your images. However, it will also depend on your provider and the quality of their screens.

Alight Media’s digital billboards operate at high-resolution quality levels, so that your branding will be clear and readable to all audiences.

Pro tip: Contact us today to get more information on our screens and how we can help you select high-quality images.

How to design an impactful billboard

Making your billboard advertisement creative and engaging is a great way to make sure your business is remembered. You can develop a billboard design in-house or with the help of a billboard provider, depending on your level of expertise.

It is often cheaper to design billboards alongside a provider, who can advise on potential costs and cost reductions.

Here, we’ve outlined some of the key features you should look to include in your billboard design:

Attention-grabbing visuals

The most effective billboard ads use high-quality images, bold colours and contrasting elements. For inspiration, take a look at Nike’s ‘St Rooney’ (2006) billboard, which used strong red and white imagery to make an impact on viewers.

If you’re just starting out on your billboard advertising journey, try using free stock images or simple, bold graphics to catch your audience’s attention. Sometimes, the most creative ads are the simplest ones.

Get inspired: Prevayl's billboard campaign

Prevayl, a premium tech sportswear brand, wanted to boost its brand visibility through an impactful billboard campaign. They aimed to reach people from a range of demographics and need states — and so uplift their social media and TV output.

Prevayl worked with Alight Media to run large digital screens covering over 50km in and around Manchester. Their ads ran on arterial city routes and were viewed by over 2.17 million people. Thanks to this DOOH campaign, Prevayl achieved a dramatic uplift in website visits from the Manchester region.

Impactful typography

Typography is perhaps the most important part of your billboard ad. Without a clear call to action, your viewers will not know what steps they need to take to engage with your brand.

Take time to consider the font, the size of the words and the hierarchy compared to other elements on the billboard. Typography is most effective when it is clear and concise, so it is key to try and limit how many words you are putting on your ad.


Get inspired: ADT’s billboard campaign

ADT ran their Darker Nights campaign across 200 of Alight Media’s billboards. They used their brand colours of blue, yellow and white throughout their ad, and included a prominent product shot of their alarms in action.

Following the campaign, ADT saw a 33% uplift in website traffic.

A clear call to action

Ensure that your headlines and supporting copy are clear, use straightforward language and focus on a single call to action. This will help guide viewers to take the next appropriate step and engage with your brand further.


Design and run your billboard campaign with Alight Media today

A successful billboard advertising design starts with knowing your audience and how to reach them. Once you’ve got this information, you can get started designing and planning your billboard marketing strategy.

In this article, we’ve outlined the things you need to know when running a billboard ad on a budget — and shared some of our top billboard design tips.

Alight Media supports a range of small businesses around the UK, helping to build brand awareness through impactful advertising. Our positively different out-of-home can connect you with your target audience and grow your brand. Plus, we have no minimum order value, so you can create great campaigns regardless of your budget.

To learn more about Alight Media’s services and billboards, contact one of our specialists today.