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USE AND EFFECTIVENESS OF BILLBOARDS Perspectives from Selective-Perception Theory and Retail-Gravity Models Charles R. Taylor, George R. Franke, and Hae-Kyong Bang ABSTRACT: A survey reveals four primary reasons why businesses use billboard advertising: visibility, media efﬁciency, local presence, and tangible response. Insights on the relative importance of these factors are provided by retail-gravity models and selective-perception theory, along with recency planning in media strategy. The study also identiﬁes eight executional factors that are associated with successful billboard advertising: name identiﬁcation, location of the billboard, readability, clarity of the message, use as a tool of integrated marketing communications (IMC), powerful visuals, clever creative, and information provision. Moderating effects of company size, company type, and level of billboard usage are examined. The results go beyond existing textbook and trade-press discussions to document the factors that make billboards an important promotional tool. Recent years have seen growth in outdoor advertising rev- The growth of outdoor advertising has included a consider- enues. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of able increase in the use of nontraditional formats, including America, annual revenues were $2.8 billion in 1993; over the street furniture (e.g., bus shelters, kiosks), alternative media following 10 years, expenditures almost doubled, increasing (e.g., arenas and stadiums, airborne, marine), and transit (e.g., to $5.5 billion in 2003. This rise has occurred in spite of the buses, airports). The focus of this study is on billboards, however, loss of cigarette advertising on billboards due to the Master which remain the most common form of outdoor advertising. Settlement Agreement of 1998 and a decline in the relative Numerous academic articles, textbooks, and industry proportion of billboards for alcoholic beverages (OAAA 2004). publications list key advantages and disadvantages of outdoor In recent years, a broader range of product categories has been advertising/billboards in comparison to other media. No prior advertised on billboards, led by a variety of retail and service study has examined managerial perceptions of the primary rea- businesses. Zenith Optimedia classiﬁes outdoor advertising as sons for using billboards, however. Moreover, despite numerous a “major medium,” along with television, radio, newspapers, discussions of factors associated with billboard advertising magazines, the Internet, and cinema. Zenith Optimedia proj- success, the literature does not address the attributes of the ects continued growth in outdoor advertising expenditures, medium that users see as the primary factors associated with and ranks outdoor as the ﬁfth largest advertising medium successful billboard advertising. worldwide, behind only television, newspapers, magazines, The purpose of this paper is to address these gaps in the lit- and radio (Zenith Optimedia 2005). Despite revenue growth, erature by reporting the results of a survey of businesses that use however, outdoor advertising remains “one of the least re- or have used billboard advertising. The issues addressed are: searched of any mass medium” (Katz 2003, p. 92). Even among the limited number of studies that have been conducted, few 1. What are the primary reasons that companies decide to have focused on what factors drive its effectiveness (Donthu, continue using billboards? What is the relative importance Cherian, and Bhargava 1993). of these reasons? 2. What strategic and executional factors do managers Charles R. Taylor (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the John A. believe are critical to the success of a billboard campaign? Murphy Professor of Marketing, College of Commerce and Finance, 3. What is the relationship between the reasons for using Villanova University. billboards and the strategic and executional factors necessary George R. Franke (Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel for success? Hill) is a Professor and Reese Phifer Fellow of Marketing, Culver- house College of Commerce and Business Administration, University This study ﬁrst examines why companies use billboards, of Alabama. Hae-Kyong Bang (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an as- The paper was funded by the Department of Management and Mar- sociate professor of marketing, College of Commerce and Finance, keting at the University of Alabama and the Center for Marketing Villanova University. and Public Policy Research at Villanova University. Journal of Advertising, vol. 35, no. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 21–34. © 2006 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved. ISSN 0091-3367 / 2006 $9.50 + 0.00. DOI 10.2753/JOA0091-3367350402 22 The Journal of Advertising and then considers how to use them effectively. It also intro- whether advertisers were following accepted creative principles duces two theoretical perspectives, based on gravity models associated with outdoor advertising. Drawing on Burton’s Adver- and selective perception, to aid in a better understanding of tising Copywriting (1983) and the Trafﬁc Audit Bureau’s Planning what drives the effectiveness of outdoor advertising. The re- for Out-of-Home Media (1977), Blasko listed ﬁve main principles mainder of the paper contains a review of academic research of effective billboard advertising: (1) short copy (eight or fewer on the characteristics of billboard advertising, followed by a words in copy), (2) simple background, (3) product identiﬁcation description of the conceptual framework guiding the study. (billboard clearly identiﬁes product or advertiser), (4) simple The study’s methods are then described, results are discussed, message (single message communicated), and (5) creative (use and implications and conclusions are drawn. of clever phrases and/or illustrations). Studies conducted by Donthu, Cherian, and Bhargava LITERATURE REVIEW (1993) and Bhargava, Donthu, and Caron (1994) found recall of billboards to be positively related to a variety of factors, including brand differentiation, emphasis on product perfor- Characteristics of Billboards Versus Other Media mance, inclusion of price, use of a photograph, use of humor, Textbook authors and academic researchers have identiﬁed a use of color, and a good location for the billboard. The 1993 variety of distinctive characteristics of billboards and outdoor study emphasized that advertising recall can be enhanced by advertising (e.g., Kelley and Jugenheimer 2004; Sissors and using fewer words or unusual executions. Baron 2002; Taylor 1997; Vanden Bergh and Katz 1999; As with the key advantages of outdoor advertising, there Woodside 1990). The advantages of using billboards include, have been many discussions of strategic and executional fac- among other things: (1) potential placement of the advertise- tors related to the success of billboards, but little systematic ment close to the point of sale, (2) high frequency of exposure investigation of the underlying factors that drive successful to regular commuters, (3) high reach, (4) 24-hour presence, billboard advertising. Below, we offer some insight on these (5) geographic ﬂexibility for local advertisers, (6) economic factors by providing two theoretical perspectives on the pro- efﬁciency in terms of low production costs and low cost per motional role of billboards. thousand exposures, (7) visual impact from advertisement size and message creativity, and (8) brand awareness. Disad- CONCEPTUAL RATIONALE AND HYPOTHESES vantages include: (1) the need to limit the number of words in the message, (2) short exposure to the advertisement, (3) Two theoretical perspectives are used as a basis for hypotheses low demographic selectivity, and (4) measurement problems. in this study. First, because humans have limited informa- A recent study of billboard users found that compared with tion-processing capacity, part of the attraction of billboards other media, billboards were rated higher in terms of ability involves their ability to cut through clutter. To deal with the to (1) communicate information affordably, (2) attract new large volume of advertisements shown, people engage in selective customers, and (3) increase sales (Taylor and Franke 2003). perception, which involves screening out advertisements that are While many advantages of billboards have been identiﬁed less relevant to them (Celsi and Olson 1988; Mowen and Minor anecdotally, from experience, or through academic study, there 1998). Second, because a billboard appears at a speciﬁc loca- is a need to investigate whether frequently listed advantages tion, many of its advantages are linked to geographic factors. overlap with each other, and to examine whether they truly As is suggested by gravity models in retailing (e.g., Allaway, are advantages that are important to billboard users. Berkowitz, and D’Souza 2003; Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998), in the absence of a compelling stimulus such as substantially Executional Factors Associated with larger ﬂoor space for selling, consumers are more prone to the Success of Billboards shop closer to home. Relatively few studies have attempted to examine executional Selective Perception and Clutter factors associated with the effectiveness of billboard advertis- ing. However, a few have provided very speciﬁc advice for A key obstacle to advertising effectiveness is the volume of outdoor advertisers. In examining the outcomes of outdoor advertising to which consumers are exposed. Godin (1999) advertising, some studies found that a novel or very creative reports that an average consumer is exposed to approximately execution could improve recall or attention to billboards (Fitts one million marketing messages every year. To help manage and Hewett 1977; Hewett 1975). Thus, use of a clever creative this volume of information, consumers control their own infor- execution is one factor that has been hypothesized to correlate mation processing and engage in selective perception, which with effective outdoor advertising. leads to processing only a limited number of advertisements In a content analysis of billboards, Blasko (1985) examined and ignoring many others. Winter 2006 23 Selective perception has been conceptualized as a four-part advantage of an alternative (such as larger ﬂoor space), consum- process consisting of selective exposure, attention, compre- ers will shop closer to home. Building on Reilly’s law, Huff hension, and retention. In an advertising context, selective (1964) focused on the spatial behavior of shoppers. At the exposure refers to people limiting the communications they heart of Huff’s law is the notion that travel time to a shopping see and hear to those that conform to their preexisting ideas center is inversely related to the likelihood of shopping there. and attitudes (Burgoon, Hunsaker, and Dawson 1994). Se- In other words, the greater the distance to the shopping area, lective attention refers to actually paying attention to the the less likely the consumer is to make a trip there. Huff and advertisement once exposed to it. Selective comprehension subsequent modelers (e.g., Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998) have involves the process by which the consumer reconciles the examined factors that can induce consumers to travel further. advertisement’s content with preexisting beliefs. Finally, The overriding assumption of these models is that some ad- selective retention is deﬁned as remembering messages that ditional attraction must be present to offset distance, thereby are more consistent with one’s prior beliefs and one’s own making close locational proximity an advantage in most retail self-image. When related to advertising, these four stages contexts. generally must occur before the advertisement reaches the Because gravity models suggest that consumers have a consumer. At a minimum, attention and retention must take natural preference for traveling shorter distances and shop- place (Assael 1981). As a result, advertisers must consider ping at nearby places, it follows that billboards that point the how selective perception is affecting their ability to get a consumer to a nearby location will have a stronger inﬂuence message through to consumers. on store trafﬁc and sales. The idea that billboards located in Because of the heavy volume of advertising to which con- close proximity to the store are advantageous from a gravity sumers are exposed, they must decide which advertisements perspective is also consistent with the media-planning ad- to screen out and which to process. As media-planning expert vantages of billboards, namely, high reach and frequency in a Erwin Ephron has observed, outdoor advertising is unique in local trade area. A study by Allaway, Berkowitz, and D’Souza that people are not involved in the medium as they would be (2003) supports the notion that the billboards in close prox- when watching a television program or reading the newspaper. imity to a store enhance gravity effects. In examining the As a result, Ephron (2004) has described outdoor advertising spatial diffusion of a loyalty card for a major U.S. retailer, the as a unique case in which the “medium is the message.” When authors found a relationship between distance from the store driving by a billboard, a motorist is not bombarded with other and likelihood of signing up quickly. They also found a sig- media options, so selective perception is not as much of an niﬁcant billboard effect, stating, “Even within the 0–3-mile obstacle as in some other media. Although the short exposure ring nearest the store, non-adopters were signiﬁcantly further time and lack of involvement in the medium mandate that from the nearest billboard than adopters” (p. 144). Allaway higher frequency of exposure is necessary for billboards to have and Berkowitz (2006) further found that residents who lived the same impact as other media (Cannon and Riordan 1994; within two miles of a billboard advertising the program had a Murray and Jenkins 1992), the ability to cut through a clut- 26% higher probability of adoption during the launch period, tered advertising environment is a key beneﬁt of billboards. and that the speed of adoption was inﬂuenced by the number In short, billboards have a special advantage in that they are of billboards within two miles of the resident. Additional generally seen in a setting where there is less competition for evidence for the inﬂuence of locational elements on billboard people’s attention. As a result, they may appeal to advertisers effectiveness is provided by Bhargava and Donthu (1999), because of their ability to get noticed, especially at times and who found that sales response to billboards is inﬂuenced by places when consumers are considering a purchase or are ready location of exposure. to buy (e.g., billboards for tourist attractions, retail stores, In addition to academic research suggesting that billboard and restaurants). There are, of course, some contexts in which effectiveness is related to location, the well-documented fact billboards are used for brand building and/or supplementing that most retail businesses draw most of their customers from other media, but the recent shift toward local retail and service a limited geographic area supports the application of gravity businesses accounting for a high proportion of billboards is models to billboards. For example, Nelson and Niles (2000) indicative of the applicability of billboards being present at cite data from the International Council of Shopping Centers the right time (e.g., when a motorist is looking to stop for a that indicate that a neighborhood strip mall’s primary trade meal). area is consumers within 3 miles, whereas regional malls draw from 5 to 15 miles, and outlet malls from 25 to 75 miles. In Gravity Models addition, data from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds based on studies from state tourism depart- Dating back to Reilly’s law of retail gravitation (Reilly 1931), ments show that travelers generally do not consider dining, it has been theorized that in the absence of a known major accommodation, and entertainment options until 30 to 60 24 The Journal of Advertising minutes prior to making a stop. While the primary trade area medium. An a priori case can be made for a prediction in either for retailers and service business can range from very small for direction, indicating that neither an exploratory approach nor small businesses such as independent restaurants, gas stations, the speciﬁcation of a single dominant hypothesis is appropri- and convenience stores, to being considerably larger, as in the ate (Armstrong, Brodie, and Parsons 2001). Therefore, we case of amusement parks or large shopping malls, the need to develop alternative competing hypotheses without choosing reach consumers in the local area is readily apparent. one over the other. The locational advantages of outdoor advertising are con- Findings of gravity models have consistently veriﬁed the sistent with the need to engage in “recency planning” (Ephron importance of location in retailing (e.g., Allaway, Berkowitz, 1997). In the modern environment, advertising works by and D’Souza 2003; Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998; Huff 1964; inﬂuencing those who are ready to buy. In this new model, Reilly 1931). As a result, it can be argued that exposure to an “consumers control messages by screening-out most and se- advertisement in close proximity to a retail outlet can be more lecting only a few that are relevant to them at the time. The valuable than exposures that take place farther away. In essence, new model accepts the relevance that what makes ads work because of the tendency for consumers not to drive farther than is provided by what is happening in the consumer’s life and they deem necessary to get to a retail location, exposure to the seldom by the advertising” (Ephron 1997, p. 61). The ability advertisement in close proximity to the store may be of key to avoid being screened out via selective perception processes importance. Thus, one reasonable hypothesis is: allows many billboards to get noticed at the point at which H1a: Gravity-related factors are more important than selective- the driver is considering a purchase. perception factors in the decision to use billboards. Hypotheses and Research Questions An alternative case can be made for the central importance of overcoming selective perception. In a cluttered environment, Billboard characteristics that inﬂuence a business to use the where many advertisements compete for attention, it is critical medium may pertain, in part, to both gravity and selective- for advertising to get noticed and, in turn, processed by the perception issues. In terms of providing advantages for bill- consumer. Because advertisements that are not noticed will board users, however, two broad factors can be categorized as not be effective, high visibility and frequency of exposure at being more closely associated with gravity, while two others an affordable price may be key contributors to the message are more closely associated with selective perception. The fac- being perceived and in it having an impact. We therefore tors more closely linked to gravity are tangible response and local hypothesize that presence. Tangible response refers to the ability of billboards H1b: Selective-perception factors are more important than to bring in customers, increase trafﬁc, and build sales. There gravity-related factors as a reason for using billboards. is widespread agreement that a billboard’s ability to attract customers is closely linked to its proximity to the place of Prior research has suggested that many smaller businesses business (e.g., Taylor and Franke 2003), thereby linking this and travel-related retailers, such as hotels, restaurants, and factor to gravity models. The ability to build a local presence tourist attractions, often use billboards as a central part of their based on providing a “last hit” close to the place of business is media mix (Taylor and Franke 2003). Therefore, in conjunc- also linked to retail gravity. Furthermore, the gravity model tion with testing these hypotheses, we will also address the is linked to Ephron’s concept of recency planning, in that a following research question: billboard’s proximity to the place of business enhances the RQ1: Do the reasons for using billboards vary by number of likelihood of a stop at a time when the consumer is ready billboards used per month, company size, or company type? to buy. Thus, gravity helps explain the place advantage that billboards have over other media. Two factors that are more closely tied to selective-perception Factors Associated with Effectiveness theory are visibility and media efﬁciency. Visibility, which refers The literature suggests that for a billboard to be effective, it to the ability of a billboard to make a strong visual impression, must communicate a relevant message in a clear, interesting, allows billboards to break through the clutter. Media efﬁciency, and readable manner to the appropriate audience. It must also such as broad and frequent exposure to the target audience, be at an appropriate location in order to be seen by the target suggests that the medium is effective and cost-efﬁcient since audience. Therefore, a straightforward expectation is that it is being noticed even in a competitive environment. message, format, and location are important factors associ- Although the literature indicates that both the gravity ated with the effectiveness of billboard advertising. Relevant and selective-perception factors are important advantages of message factors include name identiﬁcation and other infor- billboards, it is not clear which factors are more important to mation about the company or its products, the creativity of businesses in terms of their reasons for continuing to use the execution, and the integration of the billboard content with Winter 2006 25 the company’s other promotional messages. Format factors 5,000 companies known to have used billboards. A survey was include the readability of the verbal message, the brevity and sent to 1,315 companies selected from the list using a simple simplicity with which the message is presented, and support random-sampling technique. The cover letter promised con- of the verbal message with effective visuals. Location involves ﬁdentiality of responses and offered respondents a summary the appropriateness of where the billboard is placed. report of the ﬁndings upon request. Five weeks after the initial Individual executional factors can be equally important mailing, a follow-up mailing was sent to ﬁrms that had not for both gravity and selective-perception views of the role of yet responded. billboards. Location, for example, can relate both to the vicin- Usable responses were obtained from 348 companies, in- ity of the business (gravity) and to an attention-getting spot cluding 16 not currently using billboards. This small group near a stoplight or highway (selective perception). We propose of nonusers was kept in the analyses to broaden the range that the success factors arise as a result of both theoretical of available perspectives on billboard usage. Another 171 perspectives. As a result, our goal is to identify latent factors surveys were unusable or returned as undeliverable, produc- that lead to successful advertising on billboards. Therefore, ing an effective response rate of 30.4%. This response rate, rather than trying to develop competing hypotheses about the though not high in historic terms, is comparable to those of relative importance of the different success factors, we pose a many recent surveys in the business literature (e.g., Dennis research question: 2003; Morrison and Haley 2003). Potential nonresponse bias was assessed in two ways. Respondents to the ﬁrst mailing RQ2: What factors are related to the successful use of billboard were compared with respondents to the second mailing in advertising, and what is the relative importance of different terms of the number of employees and billboard usage levels. billboard success factors? The differences were not signiﬁcant, suggesting that non- We also pose the following question about potential modera- response bias based on these dimensions was not a concern. tors of success-factor perceptions: In addition, follow-up phone calls were made to a sample of nonrespondents. Commonly cited reasons for failing to RQ3: Do perceptions of the factors related to the successful use respond included lack of time, company policies against of billboard advertising vary by billboard usage, company size, ﬁlling out surveys, and the discontinued employment of the or company type? person to whom the mailing was addressed. These reasons The fourth research question ties together the decision to do not appear to be related to factors that would likely cause continue using billboards with the factors that billboard users bias in the results. believe are critical to success. Speciﬁcally, do the success factors relate to the reasons for using billboards? If so, how? Too many Measures alternatives are possible to allow the development of plausible competing hypotheses. For example, companies that think In developing questionnaire items for reasons to use billboards visibility is an important reason to continue using billboards and for executional effectiveness, we reviewed textbooks and could depend on any combination of message, format, or lo- academic articles and conducted extensive interviews with cation issues for the eye-catching success of their billboards. more than 20 personnel in outdoor advertising ﬁrms and Therefore, the present study will attempt to answer: general advertising ﬁrms. Some internal company documents were also examined. The preliminary list of items was pretested RQ4: How do the factors considered essential to billboard success on a group of six industry executives, and the ﬁnal question- depend on the company’s reason to continue using billboards? naire was written based on feedback provided. For the items Finally, we pose the following question involving the same measuring reasons for using billboards, seven-point scales moderators as above: ranging from “not at all inﬂuential” to “highly inﬂuential” were used. For the executional factors, seven-point scales with RQ5: Do billboard usage, company size, or company type the endpoints “not critical” and “critical” were used. moderate the inﬂuence of reasons to continue using billboards on To determine whether the items went together as expected, factors related to the successful use of billboard advertising? they were factor analyzed using principal axis analysis with squared communalities on the diagonal of the correlation METHOD matrix. Because varimax rotation gives distorted loadings when factors are correlated, oblique rotation was used to give Sample and Procedure a clearer factor structure. Coefﬁcient α was calculated to as- sess the reliability of the items in each factor, and the scores The sampling frame used was a national listing, provided by for the individual items were averaged to obtain scale scores the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, of more than for each factor. 26 The Journal of Advertising TABLE 1 Proﬁle of Respondents Frequency Percent Type of business Hotel 74 21.4 Restaurant 64 18.5 Retail store 49 14.2 Entertainment/tourism 44 12.7 Advertising or media 21 6.1 Gas station/mini market 17 4.9 Government or nonproﬁt 16 4.6 Auto dealership 13 3.8 Real estate 11 3.2 Banking and insurance 10 2.9 Manufactured product 6 1.7 Other 21 6.1 Total 346 100.0 Billboards used per month* 0 16 4.6 1 55 15.9 2–4 105 30.4 5–9 62 18.0 10–19 38 11.0 20 or more 69 20.0 Total 345 100.0 Number of employees 10 or less 52 15.2 11 to 25 63 18.4 26 to 50 57 16.6 51 to 100 50 14.6 101 to 500 62 18.1 501 or more 59 17.2 All 343 100.0 * Numbers of usable surveys vary across questions because of missing data. Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding. Proﬁle of Responding Businesses expected and the scales show acceptable reliabilities, with α coefﬁcients ranging from .76 to .93. The scale means range from Table 1 presents a proﬁle of the survey respondents. The re- 5.45 to 5.77, much closer to the “highly inﬂuential” value of 7 spondents represent a wide range of business types, including on the response alternatives than the “not at all inﬂuential” value both travel-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, of 1. As shown in the table, the factors are labeled as follows: entertainment/tourism, and gas stations/mini marts) and general advertisers. Respondents use 0 to 20 or more billboards in a typi- cal month, with 46% using from 1 to 4. Company size ranges Visibility from 10 or fewer employees to more than 500. Just over half of Companies use billboards because they provide high visibility the companies (50.1%) have 50 or fewer employees, indicating to the target audience; they are easily seen, make a strong that small businesses are well represented in the sample. impression, and are visible 24 hours a day. RESULTS Media Efﬁciency Hypothesis 1 From a media-planning standpoint, companies use billboards Table 2 shows means, factor loadings, and scale reliabilities for for their efﬁciency in terms of reach, frequency, and cost per items related to reasons for using billboards. The items load as thousand exposures. Winter 2006 27 TABLE 2 Factors Inﬂuencing the Decision to Continue Using Billboards Standard Item Factor and items Meana deviation loadingb Coefﬁcient� Visibility 5.771 1.21 .84 Easily seen and noticed 5.91 1.29 .91 Make a powerful visual impression 5.73 1.37 .79 Visible 24 hours a day 5.67 1.50 .73 Media efﬁciency 5.632 1.30 .85 Allow for repeated exposures to our message 5.85 1.38 .88 Reach a high proportion of our target audience 5.75 1.48 .82 Are cost effective compared to other media 5.27 1.58 .76 Local presence 5.453 1.31 .76 Generate awareness and name recognition in close proximity to our business 5.86 1.36 .68 Maintain brand presence in the market over time and between ﬂights of other media 5.41 1.62 .71 Provide a “last hit” close to the time the consumer makes a purchase decision 5.08 1.74 .71 Tangible response 5.453 1.48 .93 Bring customers to our place of business 5.57 1.53 .91 Increase our sales 5.41 1.56 .93 Increase shopper/visitor trafﬁc 5.36 1.62 .90 a Respondents were asked to indicate how inﬂuential the items were in their decision to continue using billboards. The response scale ranged from 1 to 7, with 1 = not at all inﬂuential and 7 = highly inﬂuential. Factor means with different superscripts differ signiﬁcantly (F > 5.84, p < .02). A planned contrast of visibility and media efﬁciency versus local presence and tangible response is also signiﬁcant (F = 30.45, with 1 and 327 df, p = 0). b From a principal axis factor analysis with oblique (promax) rotation. Correlations between factors range from .53 to .68. Local Presence Research Question 1 Aspects of billboard location that inﬂuence use include gener- Table 3 shows the effects of billboard usage (0–4 versus 5 or ating awareness in close proximity to the business, maintaining more per month), company size (1–50 employees versus 51 or brand presence, and providing a “last hit” close to the place more), company type (travel-related or not), and their interac- of business. tions on the reasons for using billboards. The factors are coded as 1/–1 dummy variables for the main effects, and their two- and Tangible Response three-way products represent the interaction terms. Using these predictors in a regression model yields p values for each predic- Producing a tangible consumer response, such as increasing tor that are identical to those produced by a standard three-way trafﬁc or sales, also inﬂuences a company’s decision to continue analysis of variance. The beneﬁt of the regression approach is using billboards. that the coefﬁcients directly indicate the magnitudes of the Table 2 also provides the results for the test of the effects. For example, travel-related companies (Type = 1) rate competing hypotheses H1a and H1b. While respondents the importance of local presence .16 above the overall mean, consider all four factors to be inﬂuential, the two factors controlling for the effects of the other variables in the model, that are more related to selective-perception issues (vis- whereas other companies (Type = –1) rate local presence .16 ibility and media efﬁciency) are each rated signiﬁcantly below the mean. Signiﬁcant interaction terms are added to the higher than those that reﬂect retail gravity (local presence values of the related main effects plus the grand mean to pro- and tangible response) (F > 5.84, p < .02). Furthermore, a vide cell means. Visibility, for example, is estimated at 6.00 for simultaneous comparison of the two gravity factors versus large companies that are heavy billboard users (grand mean of the two selective-perception factors is highly signiﬁcant 5.77 + .25 – .22 + .20), and at 5.10 for large companies that (F = 30.45, p = 0). Therefore, H1b is supported and H1a are light billboard users (5.77 – .25 – .22 − .20). is contradicted. The main effects in Table 3 indicate that all four reasons to 28 The Journal of Advertising TABLE 3 Regression of Reasons to Continue Using Billboards on Company Characteristicsa Dependent Billboard Company Company Use × size variable R2 use size type Use × size Use × type Size × type × type Visibility .079** .25** −.22** .10 .20** –.00 −.05 −.01 Media .146** .51** −.26** .02 .19** –.01 −.02 −.09 efﬁciency Local .118** .42** −.20* .16* .21** .00 −.01 −.03 presence Tangible .106** .32** −.39** .28** .16 .00 .15 .01 response Note: Entries for main effects and interactions are unstandardized regression coefﬁcients for effects-coded indicator variables, interpreted as departures from the overall mean controlling for the other predictors (e.g., heavy users of billboards rate visibility .25 greater than average, whereas light users rate visibility .25 lower than average). P values for the coefﬁcients are identical to those from three-way univariate ANOVAs (analyses of variance). All overall tests have seven df and all factors and interactions have one df. Error df range from 322 to 326. a Billboard use is heavy (5 or more) versus light (0–4) billboards used per month. Company size is large (51 or more employees) versus small (50 or fewer employees). Company type is travel-related (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, entertainment/tourism, and gas stations/mini marts) versus nontravel-related (all other). * p < .05. ** p < .01. continue using billboards are rated higher by heavy users and endpoints of the response alternatives. The relative magnitudes smaller companies. Travel-related companies also give higher of the means answer RQ2, and regressions similar to those ratings than other companies to local presence and tangible shown in Table 3 answer RQ3. response to billboards. However, the main effects of billboard usage and company size are qualiﬁed by signiﬁcant two-way Name Identiﬁcation, Location, Readability, and Clarity interactions for visibility, efﬁciency, and presence. (The interac- tion for response approaches signiﬁcance, with p = .068.) Four factors have mean ratings above six on a seven-point For visibility, large companies that are light users of bill- scale, ranging from 6.02 to 6.50. The highest-rated factor, boards give relatively lower ratings (M = 5.10) than other name identiﬁcation, refers to the need to get the company companies (means range from 5.94 to 6.04). Media efﬁciency or brand name across to the consumer. Next are location and is high in importance to heavy users of billboards regardless readability. Location involves whether the billboard is at an of company size (small, M = 6.21; large, M = 6.07), less im- effective site, and readability involves how well the typeface, portant to small companies that make lower use of billboards colors, and contrast contribute to legibility. In fourth place is (M = 5.57), and considerably less important to large light users clarity. Clarity contributes to readability, though it deals more (M = 4.66). A similar pattern is found for the importance of with whether the billboard has an obvious, concise message local presence, with comparable means for heavy users (small, than with how the message is actually presented. M = 5.85; large, M = 5.88), a lower mean for small light users (5.44), and an even lower mean for large light users (4.62). Fi- Integrated Marketing Communications and Visuals nally, tangible response is most important to small companies that make heavy use of billboards (M = 6.00), least important These two factors have mean ratings above ﬁve on the seven- to large light users (M = 4.58), and in-between for small light point scale. The integrated marketing communications factor users (M = 5.68) and large heavy users (M = 5.55). (IMC; M = 5.24) comprises two questions about the message reinforcing an overall communications strategy. Three ques- Research Questions 2 and 3 tions about billboards’ visual elements form the visuals factor (M = 5.12). Table 4 shows that the items designed to assess perceptions of the factors critical to billboard success go together to form Creative and Information eight scales. Three scales have relatively low reliabilities, rang- ing from .62 to .68, but the rest have reliabilities above the The ﬁnal two factors score below ﬁve but above the midpoint conventionally accepted level of .70. The means range from of the scale (M = 4.77 and 4.69, respectively). Creative consists 4.69 to 6.50, closer to the “critical” than the “not critical” of three items suggesting clever or novel copy and illustra- Winter 2006 29 TABLE 4 Perceptions of Factors Critical to Billboard Success Standard Item Coefﬁcient Factor and items Meana deviation loadingb α Name identiﬁcation 6.50 .80 .62 Designing the billboard so our company or brand name registers quickly with consumers 6.53 .94 .70 Prominently featuring the name of our company or the products and services we offer 6.47 .94 .69 Location of billboard 6.33 .84 .68 The billboard is strategically located 6.56 .77 .64 The billboard is on a “prime site” 6.10 1.14 .90 Readability 6.33 .72 .71 Typeface that is well spaced and legible from a distance 6.62 .64 .77 Clear contrast between background, illustration, and copy 6.48 .83 .85 Using strong colors in the ad 6.12 1.12 .54 Using headlines that stand out in the ad 6.09 1.22 .50 Clarity 6.02 .95 .64 Making one single point effectively 6.17 1.12 .73 Using a simple background 6.01 1.17 .61 Using no more than seven or eight words in the copy 5.83 1.46 .57 Integrated marketing communications 5.24 1.51 .76 The message on the billboard must reinforce our advertising in other media 5.43 1.60 .79 The billboard must be one part of a large communications plan designed to achieve our company’s objectives 5.06 1.77 .78 Visuals 5.12 1.43 .82 Including a powerful visual image in the form of an illustration 5.23 1.69 .78 The visuals on the billboard are of a quality that is similar to a work of art 5.08 1.64 .68 Making effective use of illustrations 5.04 1.67 .88 Creative 4.77 1.45 .82 Combining creative copy with a creative illustration 5.01 1.64 .79 Use of a clever slogan or phrase 4.76 1.72 .69 Using novel copy and/or illustrations 4.54 1.68 .87 Information 4.69 1.29 .77 The principal message clearly indicates the uniqueness of our product or service 5.27 1.54 .57 Giving information about the beneﬁts of our product 4.72 1.69 .65 Providing a speciﬁc reason why the consumer should use our products/ services 4.51 1.69 .86 The message describes speciﬁc advantages relative to our competition 4.29 1.78 .60 a Respondents were asked to indicate which of the items were critical to the success of billboards that advertised their business. The response scale ranged from 1 to 7, with 1 = not critical and 7 = critical. b From a principal axis factor analysis with oblique (promax) rotation. Correlations between factors range from −.02 to .62. tions. Information comprises four items on the uniqueness or tion are inﬂuenced by three, two-way interactions: use × size, advantages of the product or service. use × type, and size × type. Location is seen as less critical to small nontravel companies that make heavy use of billboards Moderator Effects (M = 6.06) and more critical to travel-related companies that are small or use billboards extensively (M = 6.54). Other Table 5 has the same format and interpretation as Table 3. combinations of the three factors rate location as intermediate It indicates that six of the eight factors associated with suc- in importance. cessful billboard advertising do not vary by billboard usage, Readability shows a single two-way interaction. It is company size and type, or their interactions. Ratings of loca- somewhat more important for small travel-related companies 30 The Journal of Advertising TABLE 5 Regression of Billboard Success Factors on Company Characteristics Dependent Billboard Company Company Use × size variable R2 use size type Use × size Use × type Size × type × type Name ID .021 .05 −.02 .03 .04 .02 −.02 .06 Location .081** −.03 .04 .09 .14** .15** −.10* −.05 Readability .044* .07 –.00 .02 .08 .01 −.11* .02 Clarity .023 .09 .01 .02 −.06 .04 −.11 −.07 IMC .017 .14 .03 −.08 .08 .03 −.08 −.08 Visuals .020 −.10 −.05 .02 .07 −.04 −.11 −.01 Creative .017 .02 .01 −.09 .08 −.05 −.14 −.00 Information .012 −.05 −.03 −.02 −.01 .01 −.01 .15 Note: IMC = integrated marketing communications. Entries for main effects and interactions are unstandardized regression coefﬁcients for effects-coded indicator variables, interpreted as departures from the overall mean controlling for the other predictors (e.g., heavy billboard use increases the importance of location by .14 for large companies, but reduces it by .14 for small companies). P values for the coefﬁcients are identical to those from three-way univariate ANOVAs (analyses of variance). All overall tests have seven df and all factors and interactions have one df. Error df range from 325 to 330. * p < .05. ** p < .01. (M = 6.47) and large non–travel-related companies (M = 6.41) cance (p = .07), and the modiﬁcation indices point to two groups than for large travel-related companies (M = 6.24) or small that have noticeably different coefﬁcients than the majority. For non–travel-related companies (M = 6.20). large travel-related companies that make low use of billboards, media efﬁciency has a strong negative effect on the importance Research Questions 4 and 5 of billboard clarity. For small non–travel-related companies that make high use of billboards, perceptions of local presence have Addressing RQ4 and RQ5, Table 6 shows how perceptions of a negative effect on the importance of clarity. After these two the success factors relate to the factors underlying the decision groups are removed from the total sample, the p value for the to continue using billboards (RQ4) and how these relationships equality constraints on the regression coefﬁcients indicates little vary depending on company characteristics (RQ5). To address variation across the remaining six groups (p = .53). both questions, the sample was divided into eight groups Three other success factors also show differing relationships reﬂecting all combinations of high and low billboard usage, with the predictors across groups. The equality constraint for small and large company size, and travel- versus non–travel- visuals is signiﬁcant ( p = .01), and freeing coefﬁcients in two related companies. The overall results for RQ4 are shown in groups improves model ﬁt substantially ( p ≤ .003). Media the “total sample” line for each success factor, which gives the efﬁciency has a positive coefﬁcient for large travel-related unstandardized regression coefﬁcients for the four predictor companies that make low use of billboards, and an even larger variables, constrained to be equal across the groups. The p value coefﬁcient in small travel-related companies with low usage. for the χ2 test indicates whether or not the hypothesis of equal- For these companies, local presence has a negative coefﬁcient. ity across groups should be rejected, which is the initial test After these two groups are removed from the overall sample, of RQ5. For additional evidence, LISREL modiﬁcation indices local presence has a positive effect and media efﬁciency a nega- were examined to ﬁnd coefﬁcients that differed signiﬁcantly tive effect on visuals in the remaining groups. in particular groups, even if the hypothesis of overall equality Information has only one group that departs from the was not rejected. Because this examination involved 256 dif- majority. For large non–travel-related companies that use ferent signiﬁcant tests (four predictors × eight groups × eight few billboards, tangible response has a strong negative effect dependent variables), almost 13 signiﬁcant results could be on the importance of information. None of the predictors are expected under the traditional .05 α level due simply to ran- signiﬁcant in the remaining groups. Similarly, the reasons to dom sampling error. Therefore, a more conservative .01 level use billboards have no effect on perceptions of IMC in the was used for the supplemental tests. majority of the groups. Two groups are exceptions. In large The overall results for clarity indicate that as visibility be- travel-related companies that use few billboards, visibility has comes more important as a reason to continue using billboards, a positive effect on IMC as a billboard success factor. In large clarity becomes more important to the success of billboards. The p non–travel-related companies that use few billboards, local value for the equality constraint across groups approaches signiﬁ- presence has a negative effect on IMC. Winter 2006 31 TABLE 6 Regression of Success Factors on Reasons to Continue Using Billboards Local Media Dependent Change p for Tangible pres- Visi- efﬁ- variable χ2 df p in χ2 change Description n response ence bility ciency Clarity 39.92 28 .07 Total sample 309 –.10 –.07 .18* .07 31.44 27 .25 8.48 .004 Low use/large/travel 50 –.10 –.07 .19* –.90** 24.73 26 .53 6.71 .010 High use/small/nontravel 15 –.11 –.52** .20** .07 All others 244 –.11 –.01 .20** .07 Readability 34.39 28 .19 Total sample 314 .21* –.08 .22** .05 Visuals 47.34 28 .01 Total sample 309 .02 .04 .19** –.05 38.31 27 .07 9.03 .003 Low use/large/travel 37 .01 .04 .19** .40* 20.16 25 .74 18.15 .000 Low use/small/travel 50 –.01 –.47** .16** .54** All others 222 –.01 .14 .16** –.17* Creative 32.14 28 .27 Total sample 309 .18** –.07 .01 .00 Name ID 26.25 28 .56 Total sample 314 –.10 .39** .20** –.11 Information 34.92 28 .17 Total sample 314 .07 .05 .00 .07 25.14 27 .58 9.78 .002 Low use/large/nontravel 15 –.90** .05 .02 .08 All other 299 .08 .05 .02 .08 Location 29.42 28 .39 Total sample 309 .24** .11 .18* –.12 IMC 32.69 28 .25 Total sample 314 .03 .11 .06 .00 24.09 27 .63 8.60 .003 Low use/large/travel 37 .00 .10 .47** .01 17.43 26 .90 6.66 .010 Low use/large/nontravel 15 .00 –.68* .03 .01 All other 262 .00 .12 .03 .01 Note: IMC = integrated marketing communications. The last four columns are unstandardized regression coefﬁcients produced in a multisample LISREL analysis. Samples represent the eight combinations of high/low billboard use, large/small company size, and travel/nontravel businesses. Coefﬁcients in the “total sample” and “all other” rows are constrained to be equal across groups. One or more coefﬁcients in the remaining rows vary signiﬁcantly ( p < .01) from the other groups. Because the variance explained differs across groups, even when the coefﬁcients are constrained to be equal, R2 for the combined results is not meaningful. For the remaining four success factors—readability, creative, attributes help billboards to be noticed and read rather than name identiﬁcation, and location—the regression coefﬁcients screened out through the process of selective perception. Also are consistent across all eight groups. Tangible response in- important are local presence and tangible response, which are creases ratings of readability, creative, and location as billboard both related to retail gravity issues in media strategy. In other success factors. Visibility increases ratings of readability, name words, billboards are often useful in reaching motorists near identiﬁcation, and location. Ratings of name identiﬁcation are the time and place of a purchase decision, so these factors are also increased by local presence. especially important to travel-related companies. Together, the factors suggest that the ability to place attention-getting DISCUSSION billboards close to the point of sale is an especially important reason to use billboards. These features are consistent with the This study draws on textbook discussions and journal ar- concept of recency planning, which suggests the need to expose ticles, plus interviews with outdoor-advertising personnel, the message to the consumer when and where the consumer to develop measures of factors that inﬂuence the decision to is ready to make a purchase. continue using billboards and that are critical to billboards’ The factors perceived as being most critical to billboard success. It conﬁrms the importance of several factors through success involve clear, concise communication at an appropri- a survey of businesses that are using or have used billboard ate location. Coordinating the message on billboards with advertising. The ﬁndings also indicate the relative importance the company’s other advertising is lower in importance, and of the various factors, show how perceptions of the billboard visuals, creative, and competitive information are lower still. success factors are inﬂuenced by businesses’ reasons for using That is, companies are more concerned with using typeface, billboards, and identify moderators of the variables and their contrast, color, and design to make the company or brand name interrelationships. register effectively than they are with considerations that may Visibility and media efﬁciency are the most important in- play a greater role in other media. Last-minute reminders of ﬂuences on the decision to continue using billboards. These an established brand name may be all many companies expect 32 The Journal of Advertising of their billboards. Of course, billboards are not limited to companies when they are small or heavy users of billboards. simple name identiﬁcation. Chick-ﬁl-A, for example, has used In either case, the company may rely on billboards—either an eye-catching creative strategy by putting three-dimensional by making heavy use of them, or by not having the resources cows and 48-foot-long “rubber chickens” on its billboards to to ﬁnd effective media alternatives. help position the chain as a likable alternative to other chains Companies that emphasize tangible response as a reason (see www.richards.com). for using billboards also place greater weight on readability, The reasons for using billboards inﬂuence perceptions of all location, and creative. Creative is the second-lowest rated of all the success factors for at least some categories of respondents. the success factors, but companies appear to see it as helping Visibility has the broadest effect, increasing the relevance of billboards affect people’s behavior. Emphasizing local pres- clarity, readability, visuals, name identiﬁcation, and location. ence as a reason for using billboards increases the importance In essence, companies that want their billboards to be noticed of name identiﬁcation. This connection is logical, because are not satisﬁed with simply getting people’s attention; they reaching people close to the time and place of a purchase believe they must be in the right place and get their message decision will not beneﬁt the advertiser if the wrong name is across clearly to be effective. Visibility also has a strong effect communicated. Conversely, emphasizing local presence reduces on the importance of integrated marketing communications the importance of clarity, visuals, and integrated marketing for large travel-related companies that are light users of bill- communications for certain categories of companies, but the boards. For these companies, billboards are important as part groups are generally small and distinct in terms of billboard of the overall communications effort rather than as a core usage, company size, and company type. Media efﬁciency has advertising tool. a mix of positive and negative inﬂuences on visuals as a success Company size and billboard usage moderate perceptions of factor. For large travel-related companies that make low use of all four reasons for using billboards. In general, all the reasons billboards, media efﬁciency increases the importance of visuals are more critical for small companies and heavier users. How- but reduces the importance of clarity, suggesting that these ever, the use × size interaction leads to the greatest differences companies are more interested in illustrating their message being observed for large companies that use few billboards. than in verbally communicating it. These companies rate all four reasons above the midpoint of the response scale on average, so they do not consider them to CONCLUSION be unimportant. They may have larger advertising budgets and more media options than smaller companies, or focus more on Previous survey research has presented evidence on companies’ the effects of their other advertising efforts, than companies experience with billboards, their perceptions of billboards that use billboards extensively. versus other media, and their estimate of the impact of a Unlike the reasons for using billboards, it is notable that billboard ban on sales (Taylor and Franke 2003). This study the success factors are generally consistent across companies. focuses on companies’ reasons for using billboards and their Regardless of company size and type and degree of billboard views on factors that are critical to billboards’ success. Future usage, which inﬂuence the reasons for using billboards, com- research could add to the approaches of these studies in several panies have common perceptions of appropriate billboard ways. Expanded surveys of nonusers or former users of bill- characteristics. Experience presumably teaches businesses boards would provide a useful comparison to the perspectives what works and does not work with billboards. Because of current billboard users and give additional insights on the heavy and light users have similar perceptions, even lim- strengths and weaknesses of this form of outdoor advertising. ited experience appears to be sufﬁcient to shape companies’ For example, do nonusers value different advertising attributes perceptions. Advertising agencies and outdoor-advertising than users, or do they have different beliefs about the ability ﬁrms may also play a role by communicating the importance of billboards to provide visibility, media efﬁciency, local pres- of the success factors to their clients. Two exceptions to the ence, and tangible response? Do users of other media such as overall consistency are location and readability. The readabil- local radio or newspapers deal with selective perception and ity effect has no clear interpretation, because it shows small retail gravity in a different way than billboard users, or do they travel-related companies having views similar to those of have distinctive goals for their advertising, such as supporting large non–travel-related companies, and large travel-related short-term sales promotions or communicating information companies matching small non–travel-related ones. Given about a variety of products? the number of effects reported in Table 5, this pattern may Qualitative research could probe more deeply into why simply arise from sampling error. The inﬂuences on percep- companies feel as they do. For example, why is name identi- tions of location are more plausible, because travel-related ﬁcation considered to be so much more critical to billboard companies especially want to inﬂuence motorists close to the success than other forms of information? Why are the creative point of sale. Location is most important to travel-related aspects of billboards given only a moderate rating, considering Winter 2006 33 the “larger than life” potential of billboards for advertising Donthu, Naveen, Joseph Cherian, and Mukesh Bhargava (1993), creativity (e.g., Fraser 1991)? 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