What Are Hoardings in Advertising?

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There’s no doubt that out-of-home (OOH) ad spending has rebounded well from the hit it endured during the coronavirus pandemic, recovering to revenues of £901 million in 2021.

This trend has accelerated through 2022 as well and is expected to record total growth of 31.5% by the end of the year.

While billboards tend to dominate the OOH advertising spend, hoardings may also play a key and understated role in outdoor campaigns. But what are hoardings, and how do they differ from billboards? Let’s get into it!

What is a Hoarding?

If you’re from the US or spend a significant period of time over the Atlantic, the chances are that your understanding of advertising hoardings may be different to people who aren’t familiar with American markets.

In the US, the word ‘hoardings’ is often used interchangeably with ‘billboards’, usually when describing large roadside panels and displays that deliver commercial messaging.

In the UK, however, advertising hoardings are large boards that may be erected around a construction site or similar location during building projects or renovations. Like billboards, they can also feature printed graphics, designs and branded messages, while it’s common for tradespeople who are working on a particular construction product to advertise their services via these hoardings.

In this respect, hoardings provide a convenient and powerful form of advertising that effectively showcase your skills and expertise to potential customers in real-time.

Another form of advertising, hoardings can be seen around the perimeter of football pitches and similar entities, which typically feature branded logos and messaging and provide immense exposure to marketers.

This works in two different ways too: firstly, you’ll be able to promote your messaging live to fans who attend matches in person and engage with your advertising firsthand. Secondly, you may reach a much wider audience in instances where the match in question is broadcast on live television, providing competitively priced, mass market exposure for the duration of the contest. 

Of course, anyone can leverage such hoardings to their advantage, usually as part of a wider and more comprehensive OOH ad campaign that will also integrate an array of other channels.

OK, but what’s the difference between hoardings and billboards in the UK advertising market? Well, billboards are likely to appear in a much wider range of locations, primarily in high traffic areas such as busy commuter routes, retail parks or bus and train stations.

Billboards are also available in a more diverse selection of sizes, from compact six-sheet posters to the larger-than-life 96-sheet billboards that are often used for roadside advertising by motorways and dual carriages.

Conversely, hoardings are primarily located around construction sites and sports stadiums, while they tend to be similarly sized depending on their precise location.

Around construction sites, hoardings also provide an important safety function. More specifically, they combine to form a barrier around potentially hazardous sites while work is in progress, creating an even more non-intrusive advertising medium that customers are more likely to engage with.

Why Are Hoardings an Attractive Medium for Advertisers?

Of course, there are also plenty of similarities that unite hoardings and billboards, meaning they offer marketers considerable benefits when planning advertising campaigns. We’ve outlined some of these in further detail below:

You Can Engage with Local Communities Organically

With both hoardings and billboards, you can effectively target local customers within your catchment area, which is often ideal from the perspective of small businesses or those with a bricks-and-mortar presence.

The same rule applies to tradespeople and construction firms, of course. After all, such entities tend to operate in fixed geographical locations and rely on a local consumer base, so hoardings enable them to advertise in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

This often leads to a higher return on your marketing spend, as it’s likely to generate a higher proportion of quality leads that can subsequently be converted into paying customers.

You could also argue that hoardings drive engagement within the local community in an organic and (as we’ve already touched on) organic manner.

This is because hoardings often fulfill a practical purpose and meld seamlessly into the surrounding environment, create a non-intrusive advertising medium that encourages customers to engage with target brands, products and services.

They Tend to be in Very High Footfall Areas

The construction market in the UK was valued at approximately $447.3 billion in 2021, with this segment dominated by commercial structures and huge development products.

In the case of the type of commercial construction sites that regularly make use of hoardings, you’ll also find that the majority of these projects are located in bustling, central locations that boast high levels in footfall.

The reason for this is simple: as most commercial real estate projects revolve around office space, supermarkets and retail parks. Typically, developers need to ensure that such structures are centrally located and close to accessible transport links, ensuring optimal exposure for any hoardings that are erected around these sites.

Remember, choosing the right location is of crucial strategic performance when investing in outdoor advertising, and in this respect, hoardings offer a particularly valuable and in-demand piece of marketing real estate.

They Drive Tremendous Brand Recognition and Recall

During the coronavirus pandemic and its various lockdowns, studies shown that the effectiveness of outdoor advertising didn’t diminish, despite the inevitable decrease in impressions and engagement levels.

In fact, one collaborative study found that there was an impressive 51% increase in ad recall and a 16% hike in purchase intent for the 65 campaigns that were researched between March and September 2020.

Of course, this also reveals the unique ability of OOH media to reinforce brand messaging and drive higher levels of awareness and recognition over time, while highlighting another advantage of using advertising hoardings to your advantage.

Remember, the same people and potential customers will pass the same hoardings each day as they go to and from work, so they’ll regularly be exposed to your messaging and product offerings.

They Allow for Directional Messaging

Because every major city often sees a number of construction projects running simultaneously, there are ample opportunities for local businesses to leverage hoardings in busy central locations.

Another advantage of this is that businesses can invest in strategically located ads to provide directional messaging, which may be combined with a concise call-to-action (CTA) to help drive customers in-store.

For example, let’s say that you operate a local fast-food and takeaway establishment. In this instance, you can target nearby hoardings that are also close to busy commuter routes or transport links, in order to target people as they come home from work and are considering their evening meal choices.

This not only enables you to target customers at a time when they’re most likely to engage with your brand, but it also allows for a simple creative that encourages a particular action and directs them to your local outlet.

This type of advertising is particularly cost-effective, while it simplifies the process of creating content and establishing both rational and emotional hooks to help engage customers.

What Can Billboards Learn from Hoardings?

Billboards are considered to be the most popular iteration of OOH media, as they offer more flexibility than hoardings in terms of target locations, the size of displays and potential for leveraging creativity.

However, this doesn’t mean that billboard users still can’t learn from advertising hoardings and how they’re deployed. Here are some lessons for marketers to heed:

The Importance of Innovation

Some of the best billboard campaigns have been deployed in bustling city locations like London and New York City (particularly Times Square), which enable individual ads to blend more seamlessly into their surroundings and thrive in a truly aspirational setting.

The same cannot be said for hoardings, which can either be seen on the perimeter of unfinished construction sites or along the sides of football pitches. Because of this, they’re not always surrounded by the most picturesque or aspirational environments, so advertisers need to be innovative to make the most of this valuable real estate.

They also tend to have less space to work with when investing in the design of their hoardings, so creativity is key if this is to be used to its optimal potential. This is particularly true when creating concise messaging, which must be punchy, short and written in active sense to help generate a sense of urgency among your target audience.

It’s important that billboard users heed this lesson, particularly as they often have to compete with rival advertisers in similar, high footfall locations. 

In the case of DOOH and digital billboards, displays often rotate up to six different messages during each 60-second period. Digital billboards also tend to be erected in the busiest locations with the highest levels of traffic, so advertisers must develop creative and high-quality content if they’re to achieve their objectives.

Making the Most of the Space That You Have

We’ve just touched on how advertising hoardings offer less space for individual creatives, so those who deal with this medium understand the importance of optimising the real estate at their disposal.

To put this into context, the standard rectangular outdoor hoarding board found in the UK is 15ft x 8ft (4.572m x 2.438m). 

In comparison, a popular 48-sheet billboard measures 6.096m x 3.048m, while a 96-sheet billboard (which is typically used to advertise at height and at busy roadside locations) boasts dimensions of 12m x 3.048m. 

Given the relatively compact nature of hoardings, advertisers have to give extra careful consideration to the design of the space, especially in relation to messaging, branding and the relevant call-to-action.

Because advertisers who deal with large-scale 48 and 96-sheet billboards have far more space with which to work, it’s easy for them to become complacent about their design and how the canvas is utilised. However, it’s important that you adopt a similar mindset to hoarding advertisers, by carefully planning the layout of your billboard and ensuring that you achieve the best overall creative.

In particular, you should remember the so-called “rule of three” when planning your billboard layout. This simple principal of graphic design states that you should divide any canvas into three equally sized horizontal and vertical sections, creating a grid in which you can subsequently place key design elements.

This helps you to introduce structure and optimise the space, regardless of the nature of your creative and the size of billboard that you’re dealing with.

Similarly, we’d recommend that you keep your headlines concise and to no more than six or seven words. This should ensure that you create punchy and impactful primary messaging without utilising too much space.

How to Vary Your Messaging

Advertisers may use a number of advertising hoardings in target areas, which can create significant swathes of messaging that a target audience may encounter more than once every single day.

While this is tremendous from the perspective of brand exposure, it can become an issue if you leverage the same messaging on each display. 

More specifically, this can create a single message that loses its impact gradually over time, desensitising potential customers to its meaning and causing them to stop noticing or recalling the brand over time.

This explains why marketers that use advertising hoardings tend to vary their messages considerably, even within the same campaign. They can do this by creating primary, secondary and tertiary messaging, which create different layers to their outdoor campaigns without undermining the overarching purpose of the campaign.

Billboards should also heed this message, especially when erecting multiple displays in close proximity to their store or retail outlet. This is a common strategy for small businesses who are looking to build awareness within the local community, and it’s important to utilise varied messaging that keeps customers engaged over time. 

This is especially important over the course of extended campaigns that run for longer than the standard two-week booking, as increased exposure relies on subtle changes in messaging and design that retain the attention of customers while remaining true to the campaign and underlying brand values.

The Last Word

So, there you have it; an introduction to advertising hoardings, their advantages and the lessons that they offer to brands that regularly use billboards to promote their products and services.

As we can see, hoardings can play an important but understated role in any outdoor marketing campaign, particularly when targeting busy, city centre locations and striving to create brand awareness and recall.

Small businesses may be particularly inclined to use advertising hoardings, especially if they have a bricks-and-mortar store or location and want to target customers within a strict catchment area. 

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