Sunday, February 23, 2014

Billboards — A few punchy words long before Twitter

Billboards and Tweets have a lot in common. They come up on you all of a sudden, use only a few words, and have emotional punch.

The difference between highway billboards and Tweets is that — when you hit 80 — you can read a billboard without looking down in your lap. 

Bad billboards and bad Tweets belong in the same junk-pile. 

I found this little mock-up (never actually produced) in a pile of stuff from an ad agency. Could you figure out what this thing is about as you speed along to work? When those trees grow bushier, drivers will be spared their confusion.   

Now look at this master monster from the recent battle over unionizing a VW plant in Tennessee. You might love unions and adore Obama — but you have to admit the visceral power of this roadside ad. I'm sure drivers chewed on these words long after they'd digested their Egg McMuffins. 

From the same Tennessee union battle came this digital thingy with an equally crude but effective message. In SEVEN words — far fewer than 140 characters — it accuses the UAW of ruining the great city of Detroit. Admire the crisp choice of words even as you might gag over the sentiment.

A good billboard is economy of language plus verbal punch — born in a pre-Twitter era.

I will definitely add a billboard-writing exercise to my NYU communication course this spring. I can squeeze it in right before we discuss spit balls and just after sky-writing. 



Anonymous said...

Yes, a section on billboards would be instructive for students. Make sure you tell them not to be too clever. The idea has to burst off the sign and be absolutely clear. Another section on headlines might be in order: to sell your story without misleading.

brandsinger said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Headlines are an important art form, yes, as are Chinese fortune cookies (American style humor stuck in a faux-Chinese pastry).