Outdoor Advertising Ideas that Work For Small Businesses

If you haven’t considered a billboard, mural or car wrap, here’s why some businesses should.
Using an exterior wall as a canvas for a mural can be an effective advertising strategy for small businesses. (Photo: Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock)

Even if you’re embracing the latest ways to advertise, such as paid campaigns on social media, some of the old-school methods still work — and in some cases, may even work better.

If you haven’t considered a billboard or other form of fresh-air signage, know this: Outdoor advertising tends to deliver a superior return on your marketing investment — nearly $0.40 more per dollar spent than TV and print advertising, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA).

“Out-of-home advertising is the last true mass medium,” said OAAA communications director Nicole Hayes. Outdoor advertising is always “on,” Hayes explained, so “businesses don’t have to be concerned with audience fragmentation because it can’t be skipped, turned off or deleted.”

Consider adding these outdoor advertising strategies to your marketing toolkit.


Local businesses tend to get the best success from billboards, said Hayes. “In fact, about 73 percent of billboard messages promote local advertisers.”


Use bold advertising with minimal copy, suggests Candice Simons, founder & CEO of Brooklyn Outdoor. (Photo: Candice Simons)

If you go with a billboard, keep the copy short, advised Candice Simons, founder and CEO of Detroit advertising agency Brooklyn Outdoor. After all, many people seeing it will be on the move. For the same reason, Simons said, “Make sure that your advertisement is big and bold.” Ideally, the viewer should be able to get the message in under seven seconds.

When choosing a location for billboards or murals, said Simons, consider proximity to your business, the direction of traffic, sightlines and where your key target consumers live and play.

Sign spinners and “wavers”

For specific types of single-store businesses, Simons said sign spinners and “wavers” (employees or contractors paid to stand by the road in costume to wave and welcome people into the shop) can be more affordable than billboards and other outdoor options. The key is not to come across as desperate or distracting to drivers.

Businesses such as debt relief centers, cash loan providers, fast food restaurants and used car lots are the most likely to benefit from roadside welcoming, said Simons. She suggested using sign spinners for events such as grand openings or big sales to draw more foot traffic into your store.

Street advertising

Simons said her agency has seen success with high frequency buys in advertising on street furniture. That includes bus and subway benches and bus shelters. For these ads, she recommended finding a location and format “that can be seen from various vantage points” for the greatest possible exposure.

Street ads can also be placed on newsstand kiosks, map kiosks and even subway turnstiles.

Sidewalk signs


(Photo: Yury Gulakov/Shutterstock)

For retail boutiques, bars and cafes, sidewalk signs can increase foot traffic. Clever ones can serve a dual purpose: passersby may snap photos of a sign they like and post them on social media, which is free advertising for your brand.

Wallscapes and murals

Wallscapes and murals, if well executed, can also be very effective for small businesses, said Simons.

“We tend to see the best ROI on strategic-focused large format wallscapes and billboards,” she said. “Large format wallscape is a large vinyl on the side of a building and is much larger and more impactful than a standard billboard on the expressway.”

For this ad strategy to work, do your research. Home in on the ideal placement considering the audience you want to target.

If you own your business’ building or if your landlord is amendable, an available exterior wall can be turned into an inexpensive canvas. “The graffiti mural or hand-painted mural signage is extremely effective when done correctly,” noted Simons. She suggested hiring a local artist with a strong social media presence.

Vehicle wraps

vehical wrap

(Photo: dsigns/Flickr)

For the tradesman type of business, such as home remodeling, plumbing and lawn care, Rodger Roeser, CEO of marketing firm The Eisen Agency, called vehicle wraps an essential outdoor advertising strategy.

“These types of wraps are not only inexpensive forms of advertising, they brand the business as credible and professional,” he explained — and it is always good for potential customers to see that you’re out working.

Simons said even public vehicles can be wrapped. “Vehicle wrap advertising on trains, rail and buses is extremely effective for a brand awareness message.” Public transit ads are great for extending your brand’s reach if you have a broad audience because they reach the masses, she explained.

Whatever outdoor marketing you choose to do, Hayes said, “Again, keep it simple. Remember consumers have limited time to absorb the message. Make it clear, and make it count.”

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