There are many factors that contribute to a successful and engaging billboard ad, from its strategic location and messaging to the effective use of calls to action.
However, great billboards (and indeed any type of OOH advertising) are often defined by small and seemingly insignificant details, with your choice of typography offering a relevant case in point.
In this post, we’ll explore this in further detail, while asking which fonts are the most effective for most OOH applications.
Getting Started – The Key Considerations When Choosing Your OOH Font
Before we delve into the best fonts for OOH ads channels such as billboards, it’s important to explore the concept of typography in further detail and how it can impact on the minds of consumers.
So, here are three considerations when choosing your OOH font and looking to engage your audience as effectively as possible.
The Psychology of Typography
Let’s start by understanding the psychology behind typography, which has been explored by a number of experiments over the years.
One of these was conducted in 2013 by filmmaker and author Errol Morris, who collaborated with the New York Times to determine whether or not readers were more likely to agree with an essay as a result of the chosen font.
While this notion may seem fanciful, the results generated by 73 participants from 17 countries revealed that typography had a significant impact in the minds of readers, with the ‘Baskerville’ font far and away the most trusted and agreeable.
Not only does this tell us that the Baskerville font offers value to brands who are looking to persuade or sell to customers through OOH media, but it also introduces the idea that variable fonts can be used to trigger alternative emotions and responses in consumers.
To understand this further, let’s take a look at the fonts used by some of the world’s most famous brands. In the case of Disney, for example, the brand uses a playful and childlike ‘Display’ font to appeal directly to its core demographic, while also presenting a bold and recognisable identity that reflects the entire operation.
Conversely, America’s famous Cadillac brand is renowned for its simple elegance and sophistication, which also dominate the company’s motto and design ethos.
To embody this in text, Cadillac uses a classic ‘Script’ font that also inspires an emotional response in customers.
When we appraise more contemporary, digital brands such as hulu, we see the use of bold and progressive ‘Modern’ fonts. The reason for this is simple; as these fonts effortlessly capture the brand’s tech-led nature while also helping them to standout in an incredibly competitive and fast-paced market.
With these examples in mind, two things become abundantly clear.
Firstly, brands can leverage different fonts to prompt specific emotions from their target audiences, while also synchronising this with their content and location to create a more holistic campaign.
Secondly, it’s possible to use specific fonts and typeface iterations as a way of reinforcing your brand’s values and visually identity, while maintaining consistency and familiarity across various channels both on and offline.
The Size of Your Font
Of course, there’s little point in using a carefully selected font if customers can’t read your messaging, so it’s crucial that you utilise the right size lettering and structure your wording in a way that’s legible. In terms of the former, it’s absolutely imperative that the ad in question is easily readable at distances in excess of 1,000 feet. To achieve this, the precise size of your font will naturally vary depending on the dimensions of your billboard, but as a general rule your lettering should be no less than 18-inches in height.
For the larger, 96-sheet billboards typically found at roadsides, the optimal font size is arguably around 3’ or more, so keep this in mind when developing your campaign ads.
In terms of exposure, this should allow motorists travelling at 60mph up to four seconds to read your messaging, although they would have considerably longer in instances when the car is idling (which is why targeting busy commuter roads can be so lucrative for advertisers).
Just remember, the height of the lettering increases both the visibility at distances and the estimated time to read, which is why your choice of font and billboard size remain so integral.
Of course, utilising big fonts and tall lettering also takes up more space on the billboard, encouraging you to create the type of concise and punchy messaging that’s intelligible and capable of grabbing the attention of passers-by in a matter of seconds.
On a similar note, we’d recommend presenting your messaging in a grammatically correct manner and avoiding writing in all capital letters.
There’s a solid reason for this too; as this presents letters that are all the same height and transforms each word into an even, rectangular shape. This makes your messaging difficult for the human eye to process in one, forcing potential customers to read letter-by-letter and making it far harder to engage footfall and passing traffic in a timely fashion.
The Colour of Your Font
Last, but not least, we come to colour, which also plays a pivotal role in helping your brand identity and messaging to stand out.
It’s wrong to consider the colour of your font in isolation, however, as your billboard should adopt a strategic combination of hues that simultaneously reflect your brand and optimise the legibility of the ad.
The first rule is to create a relatively limited palette, and one that ideally doesn’t include more than three colours.
This prevents the human mind from being bombarded with an excess of different colours, which can be disorienting and ultimately distracts from your primary messaging.
Typically, this means selecting primary, secondary and perhaps tertiary messages from your brand palette, or at least experimenting with similar shades to create the optimal visual impact.
This also optimises your chances of contrasting bold and vivid colours, which is also central to an eye-catching billboard that’s capable of engaging passing traffic.
This may also discourage you from applying soft pastel shades to your ad, as these can often become lost or insipid when viewed from distance.
So, if your brand’s visual identity does feature such tones, it makes sense to instead experiment with bolder iterations that strike the ideal balance between optimising visibility and maintaining brand identity.
What Fonts are Ideal for Billboards and OOH Media?
With these points in mind, it’s finally time to consider the best and most commonly used fonts when creating OOH media and billboards ads.
This process should start by identifying the broad typography and grouping of fonts that’s synonymous with your brand values, as this will narrow down the selection process and enable you to find the best lettering for specific applications.
For example, let’s consider the aforementioned ‘Baskerville’ font, which is one of several styles of lettering contained with the popular ‘Serif’ grouping.
Also home to popular fonts such as Times New Roman and Georgia, this group presents a practical, reliable and slightly formal aesthetic that promotes feelings of trust and is ideal when attempting to sell new products or effectively drive home unique selling points.
It’s also highly effective when looking to share information directly with customers, particularly when used on a billboard channel that drives relatively high levels of trust and is able to blend seamlessly into the natural environment.
Serif fonts also offer value from a practical perspective, as their use of curled features at the end of letters and numbers contribute to messaging that’s far easier to read. More specifically, this makes it easier for the human eye to transition from one letter to another quickly, making it a popular choice for large-format print ads.
Less renowned Serif fonts include Garamond and Didot, which also offer the added benefit of being relatively novel and capable of engaging a customer’s curiosity (even from a distance).
If you like the Serif grouping but want to experiment with a wider range of fonts, you could consider the Sans-Serif alternative. Make no mistake; this includes a number of well-known and widely-used fonts, including Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Tahoma, Helvetica and Lucinda Grande.
Slightly more modern and geometric than classic Serif fonts, this style of lettering enables brands to cultivate a slightly more hip and human vibe while also maintaining an underlying sense of trust and easy-to-read typography.
It would also be fair to describe San Serif fonts as being slightly cleaner from a design perspective, while there’s no doubt that they help to infuse more personality into adverts and are ideal for both headlines and tag-lines.
When further distinguishing between these two fonts, it can be argued that Serif fonts are ideal for professional service providers in sectors such as finance, insurance and accountancy.
After all, firms in these markets live or die by the levels of trust that they’re able to build with their clients, and this process should start from the moment that they engage with a roadside ad or branded billboard.
Conversely, Sans Serif fonts are slightly more universal in their nature, but they’re proving particular popular amongst startups and burgeoning tech firms who are looking to promote cutting-edge but distinctly humanistic brand identities.
The Last Word
As we can see, your choice of font can have a significant impact on the success or otherwise of your billboard campaigns, while your selected typography also says a great deal about your brand’s core values and identity.
This means that you need to think carefully when comparing different types of font and making an informed final selection, particularly if you want to create consistent and engaging campaigns that are visible from distance.
Ultimately, the key is to adopt a strategic approach when choosing a prefered font and creating a viable colour contrast for your ad, and one that’s based on both practical considerations and the psychology behind typography.