TV Ads vs Billboard Ads: Which One To Choose?

Jun 23, 2023 / Industry Insights / FOTW


With screens in everyone’s pocket, the competition for consumer attention is fiercer than ever. As such, marketing professionals are always on the lookout for the most effective ways to reach their target audiences and make their brands stand out. Two mediums that have stood the test of time in this regard are television and billboards. 

But in the duel of TV ads versus billboard ads, which one comes out on top?

Whether you’re a veteran in the field or a marketing newbie, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of these two widely used advertising platforms is crucial. With advertising budgets coming under scrutiny and the need to drive customer acquisition increasing, it’s more important than ever to invest in channels that deliver the best returns on investment and, most importantly, resonate with your target audience.

In this comprehensive comparison, we’ll delve into the intricacies of TV and billboard advertising. From understanding their unique characteristics to evaluating their scalability and ROI, this article aims to provide you with insights to inform your next advertising strategy.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Understanding TV Ads and Billboard Ads

Both TV and billboard advertising have their unique strengths and cater to different marketing needs. The choice between the two often depends on factors such as your target audience, budget, campaign objectives and the nature of the message you wish to convey.

With that said, let’s take a brief look at both advertising mediums:

An overview of the TV advertising landscape

Television advertising is a traditional yet powerful medium that allows brands to reach millions of potential customers. It’s a form of broadcast advertising that uses moving images and sound to communicate messages to a mass audience. In the UK, TV ads can range from local commercials on smaller stations, such as Dave or That’s Manchester, to prime-time spots on major networks like ITV or Channel 4.

The strength of TV advertising lies in its ability to combine visual storytelling with a wide reach. With the right creative strategy, a TV advert can evoke emotions, create memorable impressions, and even shape pop culture. Additionally, TV ads can target specific audiences based on the programming they’re paired with, be it sports, news, or entertainment shows.

However, the advent of digital technology has reshaped the TV landscape. Today, TV advertising also encompasses advertising on streaming platforms, where ads can be targeted more precisely based on viewer data.

A brief look at billboard advertising

Often referred to as Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising, billboard advertising is a form of visual communication that utilises large-scale print or digital boards placed in high-traffic areas. These can be found along highways, in city centres, near train stations, and in many other strategic locations.

Billboards are a powerful way to create brand awareness and visibility. They offer 24/7 exposure to a local audience, often reaching people during their daily commute or when they’re out shopping. They are especially effective for targeting geographical locations and for campaigns aiming to create a strong visual impact.

Digital billboards have added a new dynamic to this traditional medium, allowing for more creative and flexible campaigns. These billboards can display dynamic content, including animations, video snippets, and even real-time updates. They also allow for campaigns to be updated or changed quickly, providing brands with greater flexibility.


TV Ads vs Billboard Ads: A Comparison

When it comes to reaching consumers, both TV and billboard advertising have unique advantages and challenges. To determine which medium is more suitable for your marketing strategy, you must consider several factors:

1. Target audience

TV ads have the potential to reach a wide audience. The programming they’re paired with allows for some level of audience targeting. For instance, advertising a new video game during a popular e-sports broadcast can help reach a younger demographic. On the other hand, streaming platforms allow for more precise household-level targeting based on viewer data.

Billboards, particularly those in urban areas or along busy roads, can also reach a large audience. However, their targeting is more geographical. For instance, a billboard near a shopping centre may reach consumers who are already in a purchasing mindset. Digital billboards can even adjust their messages based on the time of day or weather conditions.

2. Budget

TV advertising can be costly, particularly for prime-time slots on major networks. The cost can increase further if you factor in production costs for high-quality commercials — although there are several ways to create a high-quality TV ad on a budget. However, the potentially wide reach of TV ads can justify these costs for certain businesses.

Billboard advertising, especially digital, can also be a significant investment, but it’s often less costly than TV advertising. However, the cost can vary widely depending on the location and size of the billboard. A digital billboard in Piccadilly Circus, for example, will cost multitudes more than a static billboard in a Liverpool train station.

3. Campaign objectives

If your campaign objective is to reach a mass audience, create a powerful visual impact, or drive brand awareness, TV ads might be the best choice. TV ads can be particularly effective for launching new products or for storytelling-based campaigns.

Billboards, on the other hand, can be ideal for local or regional campaigns or when you want to create a constant presence in a specific location. They can be particularly effective for driving store visits or promoting local services.

4. Audience experience

TV ads can deliver a rich, immersive experience using both visuals and sound. However, the viewer’s attention can be divided, particularly with the rise of second screening (using another device while watching TV). However, many advertisers have utilised multiscreen advertising to their advantage.

Billboard ads offer a more transient experience. The audience often only has a few seconds to absorb the message. However, a well-designed billboard ad can make a strong visual impact and leave a lasting impression.

Pros and Cons of TV Ads

Television advertising is a powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal, but like any tool, it has its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s explore some of them:

Advantages of TV ads

1. Wide reach

Television is a platform that can reach a vast audience. A well-placed TV spot can connect with millions, making it an excellent option for campaigns aiming for broad exposure. From local stations to prime-time slots on major networks, the reach of TV is virtually unparalleled.

2. Targeted advertising

With traditional TV ads, you can target specific demographics by pairing ads with appropriate programming. For instance, if you’re advertising a new toy, you might choose to air your ad during children’s programming. However, streaming platforms and over-the-top (OTT) devices take this a step further by using viewer data to target ads more precisely, ensuring your ad gets in front of the right eyes.

3. Visual storytelling

Television ads have the unique advantage of using both visual and auditory stimuli. This combination allows for compelling storytelling, which can evoke emotions, create memorable impressions and enhance brand recall. For example, a touching story or a funny moment can create a lasting connection between your brand and your audience.

4. Brand trust

Time and time again, TV ads have enjoyed a positive correlation with brand trust. Television is often viewed as a premium medium, and having your ad air on TV can enhance your brand’s reputation and credibility. It sends a message to consumers that your brand is established and trustworthy.

5. Impact on purchase behaviour

TV ads can influence purchase behaviour, especially for products or services that require some understanding before purchase. A well-crafted TV commercial can explain the benefits of a product or demonstrate its use, providing customers with the information they need to make a purchase decision.

Disadvantages of TV ads

1. High costs

Creating a TV ad often requires a substantial investment. Between hiring a creative team, producing the ad, and buying airtime (especially during prime-time slots), costs can quickly add up. This means that TV advertising might be out of reach for smaller businesses or those with tight marketing budgets.

2. Shorter lifespan

Most TV commercials are brief, often just 30 seconds long. This short duration means you need to capture and hold your viewers’ attention quickly. It also limits the amount of information you can convey. But, when a TV ad is done well, it has the power to be remembered for decades to come.

3. DVR and ad skipping

With the advent of digital video recording (DVR) and ad-skipping features on some platforms, not all viewers will see your ad, even if they’re watching the programme that it’s paired with. This means that your ad might not reach its full potential audience.

Pros and Cons of Billboard Ads

Billboard advertising is a tried-and-true method that remains effective even in our digital age. However, as with any advertising medium, it comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Advantages of Billboard Ads

1. High visibility

Billboards, by nature, tend to be designed to catch the eye. Located in high-traffic areas, they are visible 24/7, giving your ad constant exposure. A strategically placed billboard can garner thousands of impressions every day.

2. Geographical targeting

If you’re looking to target a specific location or region, there’s no better way than a billboard. Whether it’s at a Tube stop, along a busy highway or in the heart of a city, billboards can effectively target people based on their location.

3. Cost-effective

Billboards can be a cost-effective choice, especially for longer campaigns. While the initial investment may be substantial, the cost per impression can be quite low, given the high visibility and constant exposure.

4. Flexibility and creativity with digital billboards

The development of digital billboards adds a new layer of flexibility to the OOH medium. You can change your message or design without incurring additional printing costs and even schedule different ads to play at different times of the day.

More recently, agencies have opened up a new avenue of creativity thanks to 3D billboards. When executed well, your OOH campaign could have the ability to gain visibility across other mediums, such as social media. Think New York’s Times Square or Tokyo’s Shibuya — these two spots have been home to various 3D OOH campaigns that have gone viral on social media.The development of digital billboards adds a new layer of flexibility to the OOH medium. You can change your message or design without incurring additional printing costs and even schedule different ads to play at different times of the day.

Disadvantages of Billboard Ads

1. Limited audience details

Unlike TV or online advertising, billboards don’t offer detailed audience data. You can make educated guesses based on the billboard’s location, but precise targeting based on demographics or viewer behaviour is challenging.

2. Limited content

A billboard has only a few milliseconds to attract and convey its message before it loses its audience’s attention. Therefore, the content needs to be brief, instantly understandable and impactful. This limits the complexity of the message you can deliver.

3. Location Dependency

The effectiveness of a billboard is heavily dependent on its location. A poorly placed billboard may not reach the desired audience and can result in wasted investment.

4. Weather and maintenance issues

Traditional billboards are susceptible to weather conditions. Rain, snow, wind, or even excessive sunlight can affect visibility and degrade the billboard over time, potentially impacting the effectiveness of the ad and necessitating additional maintenance costs.

5. Absence of immediate metrics

Unlike digital marketing strategies, billboards don’t provide immediate feedback or detailed metrics — even if the billboard has an obvious CTA. This can make it harder to measure the effectiveness of a billboard ad and even harder to make timely adjustments to the campaign.

Which Type of Ad Is More Scalable — TV or Billboards?

When planning an advertising campaign, scalability is an important factor to consider. Scalability, in this context, refers to the potential to increase advertising efforts while maintaining effectiveness and efficiency. It includes the ability to expand reach, adapt to different markets, and achieve economies of scale. 

Let’s evaluate how TV and billboard advertising perform in these areas:

TV Ad Scalability

TV advertising offers considerable scalability. With a broad range of channels and timeslots available, you can scale up from local networks to national channels as your budget and strategy evolve. Ads can be aired more frequently or during prime time to reach a larger audience. Furthermore, with the advent of OTT platforms, you can precisely target different demographics and even individual households, allowing for efficient scaling based on viewer data.

However, the cost of TV advertising can rise significantly as you scale up, particularly for the more coveted TV time slots on major channels. Production costs may also increase if different versions of the ad are needed for different markets or audience segments.

Scalability of Billboard Adverts

Billboard advertising also offers scalability but in a different way. You can start with a single billboard in a strategic location and then expand to multiple billboards across a city, region, or even nationwide. Digital billboards add another layer of scalability by allowing you to change your message or design quickly and without additional printing costs, making it possible to tailor your campaign to different locations or times of day.

However, the scalability of billboard advertising is inherently limited by physical locations. The effectiveness of a billboard depends heavily on its location, and prime locations are both costly and in high demand. Additionally, while digital billboards offer flexibility, they are not available in all locations.

Evaluating the ROI of TV Ads vs Billboard Ads

As we all know, investing in advertising is a strategic decision that businesses make day in, day out, hoping to enjoy returns on investment (ROI). This return is often measured in terms of the increase in revenue or customer base that the advertising generates. 

Let’s compare the ROI of TV advertising and billboard advertising in the UK.

ROI of TV Advertising

In the UK, TV advertising is not just surviving in the digital age — it’s thriving! A study by Thinkbox has shown that, in the short term, TV holds the championship belt for advertising-generated profit, accounting for a whopping 62% of the total. Not only does it command the lion’s share of the profits, but it also boasts an impressive ROI of £1.73 for every pound that businesses invest, outshining all other media platforms. 

Plus, TV ad ROI compounds over time, with the same Thinkbox study finding that after three years, each pound spent will return an average of £4.20. With TV advertising, the fruits of your investment can be tasted remarkably quickly, and it blossoms further over time.

Billboard Advert ROI

Billboard advertising may evoke a sense of nostalgia, but don’t let its traditional nature fool you. This tried-and-true advertising method continues to deliver impressive returns. A 2021 study revealed that billboard advertising could net an average ROI of about 497%. In simple terms, for every pound you invest, you could potentially reel in about £5.97! 

The key to unlocking this treasure chest? Careful measurement of your billboard advertising ROI to assess effectiveness and fine-tune future campaigns — which is far from easy. With the right metrics at your fingertips and smart optimisation strategies, you can ensure your billboard advertising campaigns strike gold and align perfectly with your business objectives.

Which Type of Ad Is Most Beneficial for Businesses?

When it comes to marketing, it’s crucial to remember that no two businesses are alike, and each comes with its unique set of requirements and objectives. That said, when the spotlight shines on TV advertising and billboard advertising, one may stand out just a bit more for businesses, especially those looking to maximise reach and engagement — and that is TV advertising.

TV advertising has the power to reach millions of people in just one viewing. It’s like hosting a party and inviting the entire country. This broad reach, along with the ability to target ads based on what shows people are watching, gives TV advertising a real advantage.

But it’s not all about numbers. TV advertising is also about the heart. It uses both visuals and sound to tell a story that can touch emotions, create unforgettable moments and even shape our culture. These emotional connections can lead to stronger engagement and better brand memory.

Plus, the digital age has given TV advertising a new power: precision. Now, businesses can use viewer data to make sure their ads reach just the right people. That means more effective advertising campaigns and more bang for your buck.

Of course, billboard advertising has its strong points too. Billboards are always “on”, they’re great for targeting specific areas and they can make a big visual splash when done right. But the immersive experience of TV advertising, combined with its far-reaching audience and tailored targeting, makes it a champion choice for many businesses.

So, while both TV and billboard advertising have their strengths and deserve a spot in a marketer’s toolkit, TV advertising often steals the show for businesses aiming to maximise their advertising returns. With its wide reach, emotional depth, and precise targeting, TV advertising is a hard act to follow.

Final Thoughts

The face-off between TV ads and billboard ads certainly makes for an interesting analysis. Both platforms have their unique strengths, and the best choice depends on various factors, such as the target audience, budget, campaign objectives and the nature of your brand’s message.

However, when it comes to wide-reaching impact, emotional storytelling, and precise audience targeting, TV advertising often stands tall. The evolution of digital technology has also enhanced its potency, allowing for a more granular audience reach and a higher return on investment.

As we’ve seen, the choice of advertising medium can significantly affect your campaign’s effectiveness. Therefore, it’s crucial to make informed decisions that align with your brand’s needs and objectives. Sometimes you might come to realise that a multi-channel, multi-medium approach will serve your marketing needs better than if you went a single route!

If you’re planning your next marketing campaign and want to harness the power of TV advertising, consider partnering with us. As an experienced TV ad agency, we have the expertise to craft compelling campaigns that resonate with your target audience and deliver measurable results. Ready to elevate your brand’s visibility and maximise your advertising ROI? Then, give us a ring today!


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