The 40 Worst Failures in Advertising Billboards of All Time


The 40 worst failures in advertising billboards of all time all began with the need to put out a message. The problem was in the delivery of the message. This could be in the words and or pictures to get the attention of those passing by. If the right message is not received by the viewers then the advertising campaign is a failure.

One great example of this is an advertisement in a car on the tube in London. At first glance this ad seems to glorify the selling of arms and munitions to Arab nations. For many the small print will not be read because they are so turned off by the large print. This is an example of how a very poor choice of words can cause the real message to never be received by those that view the billboard.

This advertisement from an insurance company does not even make sense. At a glance it is almost impossible to know what they represent or attempting to sell. This ad forgets to make the message short and simple. While it is short, it is not simple or clear and fails.

This is another example of very poor choice in words by the person who not only came up with the advertising idea, but those that approved it.  The flames are a nice touch, but the insinuation your mouth has its own face is a stretch too far.

One group that nearly always goes too far in their advertising campaigns is PETA. Save the Whales is a good idea, but I am talking about the marine animals. With the depiction of a fat women and telling them to lose the blubber and only eat vegetables is just an insult and in poor taste.

This one is difficult to get a message from. With the image of two women about to kiss, the words are not even seen by the viewers. For a company that is in the business of teaching the English language, they sure do not know how to use it properly.

What in the world is this outdoor billboard trying to say? Yes the image of the boy in a mask is cute, but the imitation of the Force from Star Wars has nothing to do with banking and investing. This is another message lost to the world.

This is a great example of how public service messages in third world nations have a very small budget. The ad does not grab your attention and for most will not be remembered.

This depiction is how the placing of two unrelated advertisements next to each other can just be a very poor choice. The example is from the UK where the advertisers did not look where the billboard was to be placed before they were posted.

Wow what a mess of an advertisement. This is a great example of what not to do when attempting to compose an advertising campaign. This image is so jumbled it is just ignored and a total waste of advertising money.

This is a confusing advertisement that only sends the message WHAT??? Seeing cute baby animals has nothing to do with being a vegetarian. What this campaigns has forgotten, in some parts of Asia, both of these are eaten. This is a very bad choice of words and characters. Most of all the baby animals are not eaten, it is the adults.

This ad uses the wrong type of font and the message is too hard to read and way too long. When the basics of 6 words or less and to the point easy to read are forgotten so is the message.

This tobacco advertisement forgot not everyone knows English. This is an example of not knowing the target audience or maybe it is simply not caring. Just so everyone knows this outdoor billboard is in Romania. In most parts of the world tobacco is not permitted to be advertised.

This is a perfect example of how not to mix colors to get a message across. This message is just on a small sign, but is confusing for those passing by it. For many it also hurts their eyes because they have to focus so intensely to read it and another failure from the advertising world.

Ok, nice clear message, but for what purpose? Is this an advertisement for the green frogs of the area and its safe for them to hoop around? Way too many questions involved with this advertisement.  Whoever put this up should have thought about it for a longer time.

This outdoor billboard is an example of an attempt to use patriotism as a force to make people switch the beer they drink. This was a nice attempt, but the country of Texas has not been around for more than 180 years. This is one that just gets ignored by a majority of those who see it.

Conflict and religion sometimes goes hand in hand. With this advertising campaign, the message does not make sense for anyone of the Christian faith. Jesus has his own literature it is called the Holy Bible. This is a bad choice of words that has led to a failure of the message getting across to the target audience.

Forgetting the principals in proper outdoor advertisement is very common with public messages. This one from the county San Diego is well meaning, but the print is too small and way too long for anyone in a car to read it. All it does with the image is to say look swimming is fun.

This is an attempt of being cute gone wrong. Yes the images are nice, but with just a glance the message does not go through. With the two cars and what appears to be a sun between them forces a person to think about what are they saying? By then the name of the legal firm is out of sight because the cars are just traveling to fast for this message to be received.

This outdoor billboard is kind of twisted. If you look closely at it you can see the real message, watch out for cyclists. What most people take from this as they pass by is the thought ‘yup advertising sucks’.  It gets a message across, but the wrong one.

The aim of this advertising campaign was to be big, offensive and impossible to be ignored by those passing the billboard. The problem is that is so offensive to so many the advertisement of the graphics company is missed.

Here is another public message that forgot about the flow of traffic. This outdoor billboard in Monrovia is angled away from the street and it can only be seen by vehicles on the other side of the road. The images are also very small and will not be taken in by those passing by it unless they are slowing walking by.

This attempt to influence children on an outdoor billboard in a bad way is beyond sad, it is truly pathetic. Shocking adults is one thing, but attempting to influence small children and interfere with how a parent raises their children is going way too far PETA.

Ok clear image but the message is like many of the household cleaners that are for sale. When you can read the fine prints you discover it is about reducing waste in Ireland, but at highway speed, that will be missed. They should have included the word Recycle or reduce waste in the bold type to get the real message across instead they failed.

This is a total lack of attention to detail. Sex does sell and this young lady is beautiful. The problem is that by not mounting the sheets correctly, those passing by only see how bad this ad is presented and not what is being advertising which makes this another failure in the advertising world.

It is not that these outdoor billboards are bad or send the wrong signal. The problem here is there are way too many billboards present and to close together that no one will even attempt to read any of them. This is mass marketing with total failure. While the advertising company and owners of the outdoor billboards will make a hefty profit, those advertising on these signs will see little benefit from their investment.

This is one of the best examples of total clutter to stop from getting the message out to the public. If this was a highway identification sign posted with public tax dollars, the tax payers should demand a refund.

While it seems to endure the test of time, racism has no place in our civilized society. No matter and from what angle or perspective you view this advertisement by PlayStation it is just plain wrong. The image is so strong I had to take my time and look for the advertiser. If I was just driving by I would not have tried to look who posted it.  I would have just turned my head away in disgust.

What were they thinking when they came up with this advertising campaign. Not only does the slogan make no sense, but with the tree as an obstruction in front, no one will take the time to read it. This is another great example showing a lack of detail in this advertising campaign.

While this outdoor billboard looks nice, just what are they advertising? By saying ‘Pedro no shoot ze bool’ are they advertising a vegan Mexican restaurant? While the locals might recognize the figure most people who do not live in the area that are passing by won’t, making this to be another failure in advertising.

Ok this is another public service message. This one was created for the government of South Australia and by the lacking of lighting on this mobile billboard; it is only out on public roads during the day. The message has to be interpreted to look out for drunks walking at night. How effective this type of message is not known, but there is a need. Statistics show a large increase of pedestrian deaths between 3 pm and midnight over the rest of the day.

Once again what were they thinking when they decided to show a man who was attacked by another with a tomato and using vulgarity. None of that has anything to do with the soft drink Sprite that is even spelled wrong. Yes the image and words grab the attention of the viewer but the advertisers went overboard. Most viewers just look away in disgust which causes this ad to fail in its purpose.

This outdoor billboard attempts to use color and fading to make their statement. Most will understand the message as they pass by, but that is all. After it has been interpreted, the vehicles have passed it by and the location of the relief will not be read or absorbed.

What does the scratching of a cat on a wall have to do with a cell phone company?  After taking the time to read the fine print it is understood, but no one in a vehicle passing by will have that time. Yup this is another example of forgetting the basics of advertising.

This one with a made up word just has people thinking huh and by then they have passed it by. At times like this one getting to cute and original, the ad will backfire and fail.

Nice use of color but total failure of the advertiser. No one even just walking by will read this entire billboard. Maybe the advertiser that wanted this posted and did it anonymously since they did not place a logo or name on it. Just so everyone can know, this is an ad from CBS in the Tube in London.

This is an example of Prismavision being used on an outdoor billboard. This is a three sided moving billboard face that can be ok if assembled properly. It also has high maintenance on the pivoting triangles. When there is a mechanical problem all three advertisements are unavailable.

This one speaks for itself as just an awful idea. What is obvious is he has way too much money and does not know how to spend it. To make matters worse this outdoor billboard was posted in West Hollywood which is known to be predominantly gay. That is not the best place to find a single young lady.

Nice old car but way to much writing for anyone to absorb it all especially since most of the time when the ad is in view the travelers will be looking at the car. Remember 6 words or less.

This is another billboard with a nice message that never gets read by those passing by. Way too many words and the font are too small.

When an advertisement requires a person to think too much, the message can get lost like this anti corruption billboard in Rwanda.

Ok this is a skyline from some unknown city for some unknown reason. Upon looking into its history it was to be a political ad, but those passing by will never know this or care.

This one takes the cake. Most of the people that saw this billboard had no idea why it was there. It is not associated with any of the advertisements around it. Upon looking into it since I have the time, unlike those just passing by, this is a Japanese QR code. To get the message you have to scan the code with your cell phone which will take you to their website. Way too much work for anyone just passing by and why this is a total failure as an advertisement.

These 40 worst failures in Advertising Billboards of all time should be noted by anyone in the advertising business. Forget the basics and you will fail in your objective.

Return on Investment with Outdoor Billboards

The return on investment (ROI) with outdoor billboards with hard facts and numbers has been elusive since this business sector began. Over time advertising businesses have developed ways to track the effectiveness of their products by including items that can produce real numbers.

Promotional Codes

One of the easiest ways to track how effective an outdoor billboard advertising campaign is in attracting the public is with the use of a promotional code. This simple code can be a number or name. The key is to make it short and easy to remember.

By placing the promotional code on the billboard along with the advertisement, the response can be measured by tracking how many customers use it. The most common type of promotion offers a 10% discount on items in stock. Others might find it more advantageous to offer 0% interest on layaway items.

Landing Page

Another path to measuring how effective the advertisement is on a billboard is to create a unique landing page on the internet for the promotion. By using the promotional code or a simple keyword associated with your brand that will led customers to your unique page, the traffic numbers to the page can be counted.

Using Social Media

In the digital age social media is a huge part in the daily lives of the consumer. The use of a promotional word or number with a hash tag (#) is a way to get a measurable response.

The most popular social media sources right now include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The hash tag you chose will be critical into the response you will get. If you use #sale, your page will be buried and very easily could be lost. It has to be simple but unique like #10%offbeds.

Remember the people that use social media are there for their enjoyment and entertainment. They have short attention spans and like things simple. Your message has to be simple to work.

Telephone Number

Before the advent of the internet and social media advertisers used a unique telephone number as a means to track the effectiveness of an advertisement on an outdoor billboard. For those who have a target audience of the older citizens in the population, this path will produce the best results.

Items to Remember

To generate the numbers desired for any promotion, the foundation has to be laid correctly. This includes knowing your target audience and their preferences.  As stated before the older generation prefer the use of old fashioned telephones while the younger generation would use the internet and social media. Pick the correct type of promotion to fit the needs of your target audience.

You must also have the outdoor billboard in the location where your target audience frequents. Extreme examples of what not to do include advertising a surfboard in the plains or mountain states of America or it would also not be wise to place an ad for a field tractor near a beach on the coast.

Finding the return on investment with an outdoor billboard is possible once you know how to achieve it. Match the path with the target audience then look at the results.

The Latest Ads in Outdoor Billboards for Summer 2018

In the summer of 2018 there has been new paths taken by outdoor billboard owners to attract the attention of the public as they pass by the signs. Many do it to help brand recognition of their clients while others use a holiday of social recognition day to highlight it in a unique manner.

To help recognize World Oceans Day that occurred on June 8th last Friday, Corona Beer had six outdoor billboards advertisements created and posted. To help get the point across of the damage plastics were doing to the oceans, the public was encouraged to donate old and used plastic and place it near the billboards.

On the billboard was an image of a surfer catching a wave. The plastic that was collected and accumulated by the public was then stacked in front of the billboard in the shape of a wave. This added a third dimension to the billboard most do not have.

Corona did place their name on a small poster below the billboard. Unlike the full color the surfer and wave were depicted with, the poster with the Corona name was in simple white background with black lettering.

The outdoor billboard is located in the UK. Corona also created five more for this World Oceans Day. They are located in Melbourne, Australia; Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Lima, Peru.

The advertisement was posted on the social; media site Twitter by Campaign Live of the UK.

Another manufacturer has also recently used a recognition day to promote themselves. This instance was Hasbro and Children’s Day which will occur on November 20th of this year. The new posters went up in April of this year and were under the theme of Play-Doh; ‘Open a Jar of Imagination’.

The campaign might be aimed at children, but its focus is really on adults and the importance of encouraging the youth of this world to use their imagination.

The ads have been placed at bus stops in cities across America. Along with billboards that are at eye level.

The ads depict a clear plastic container with a jar of Play-Doh inside. The clear plastic containers are in the shapes of a robot, airplane and an owl. These same shaped containers can be found in stores where Play-Doh is being sold. They will only be available for a limited time.

The ads can be seen on the social media site Pinterest.

Both of these ads are just one way businesses get their message across to the public by using a day recognized as special. In the case of Corona, it is to bring awareness to a huge problem that the world has yet to truly recognize.

Hasbro on the other hand is using theirs to inspire parents the importance of teaching their children so they can be better prepared to face the challenges this world will throw at them when they reach adulthood.

Both ads will also help to build brand awareness and loyalty because of this approach there is more than selling the product in their business plan.

Getting Noticed with Outdoor Billboards

Getting noticed with outdoor billboards is possible with the right ad campaign and location of the billboard along with a little bit of luck. These are the three elements that make it possible for this mass media approach to reach their target audience.

The Message

There are certain elements and ad should possess to get noticed independent of what is being advertised. One of the key elements to a successful ad on a billboard is to keep the message simple. As a guide use ‘keep it simple’. If your message is much longer than that key phrase to 5 words, then it will be too long for anyone glancing at the billboard to read in its entirety.

The Image

Along with a simple message has to be an eye catching image. McDonalds uses a picture of the Big Mac to entice people with food. Chevrolet will use an image of the Camero or Corvette to showcase their new line of vehicles so people can envision themselves driving one.  This is all about branding the company’s image.

If the billboard has too many images along with highlights like stars with words in it, the message will look like a jumbled mess.


The use of contrasting colors can help the ad stand out from the surrounding items, building or landscape near the bill board. This approach has also been known to get the ad noticed and read. What should be avoided are the fluorescent colors that are so bright they tend to get people to close their eyes and look away.

Font Used

The simple message should be in large easy to read letters using a simple font. Many people using advertisements for the first time love to use fancy fonts. They are under the impression it will get their message noticed. What actually happens is the font is noticed, but the message is not because at a glance it cannot be read or understood.

By using large letter with enough space between them in a simple plain font is the best way to get someone to easily read the message and get remembered.


For maximum coverage the advertisement requires the placement of the ad in a high traffic area that is known to have the target audience passing by. With over 90% of the US population over the age of 16 and traveling by motor vehicle each month, their patterns are predicable.

This constant flow of traffic by the billboard it will provide coverage 24/7/365. No other means of advertising can claim this. With the easy to read message out there with travelers seeing it continuously, the message will sink in to those in need of the product and services.

Because the traffic pattern is repeated on almost a daily bases as people go to and from work, repeated exposure helps to cement the ad in the minds of those that are constantly seeing it.

Getting noticed is simple. Have a message that is short easy to read in location that is highly visible has the best chance of being remembered. A little bit of luck can also help, but good planning and execution of an advertising campaign is the foundation of getting the word out.

The Right Location for your Outdoor Billboards

Getting noticed is the purpose of advertising and with outdoor billboards, this is possible to the widest number of people on a daily basis. The key is to not only be noticed, but remembered which can be accomplished by having your billboard in the right location.

Not all locations are equal

Everyone has seen billboards on the highways, but most do not remember what they are unless they pass by it on a regular basis.

Traffic Jams

The ones that are really remembered are in locations where there are regular or daily traffic jams. This is because the drivers have slowed down or are stopped and bored so they look around while waiting before they can continue on their way. Billboards in these areas get noticed.

Stop Lights

Another place where outdoor billboards are more remembered are near intersections where traffic control lights are located. Because the vehicles are not moving, there is time for the drivers and passengers to gaze out the windows and observe their surroundings. Most traffic lights change every 30 seconds or so. That means instead of those passing by only having 3 to 6 seconds to see your sign, they have up to 30 seconds to see and remember your message.

Bends and Corners

When the road bends is a place where the driver is more aware of the road and the surrounding condition. They are no longer on autopilot as many would put it. There is a change in direction and each driver is at an elevated height of awareness. For many a billboard at or near a bend in the road is a landmark they will remember to be ready for that change.


Many intersections in America where two or more roads meet are a very popular location for outdoor billboards. There does not always have to be a stop light or sign for the advertising to be remembered. These billboards are very often used as landmarks in directions drivers give one another when helping someone get to their destination. This type of recognition occurs in both metropolitan and rural areas.

Wi-Fi locations

Billboards will be seen by both drivers of vehicles and pedestrians just walking around. With most of the population now glued to their smart phones, it only makes sense to target areas where there is a large concentration of mobile users. With an outdoor billboard located nearby a Wi-Fi hot spot, getting noticed is assured. Your billboard once again will be used as a landmark. By having your advertisement near several of them in a metro area, your brand will be recognized as a place to get connected.

The Message

The location of the outdoor billboard is very important, but so it the message you are trying to get the public to remember.  Simple short messages are best so those seeing it can absorb the entire message at a glance. This will get your message remembered by more that glance at it.

The Right Message on 3 Outdoor Billboards

In the movies and real life 3 billboards seem to be the correct number to get a simple message out that people will remember. With the right message or questions to get people talking is what is necessary for this type of campaign to be successful.

The use of outdoor billboards to help increase the public knowledge of your business is one of the most cost effective means available. Depending on the size of the city or metropolitan area, hundreds to thousands will see your billboard each and every day.

The Message

This path of getting your message out to the public is considered mass marketing. To be most effective a broad message to entice more of the population to notice your message is the best path to take.

  • The best message will only be 6 words or less in length.
  • The message must be easy to read.
  • A phrase that will catch the attention of those passing by is best.
  • Large letters should be used.
    • These are the easiest to read.
    • Small letters or words are generally ignored or not noticed.
  • The message should not be distracting.
    • Distracting messages could cause accidents and should be avoided since most of the observers of the billboards are drivers on the road.

Branding a Product with an Outdoor Billboard

  • 6 seconds or less is the time drivers have to view the message.
  • The message should be easy to remember.
  • In many instances a short slogan and an image is best to get remembered.


Many of the popular restaurants and fast food chains do this very successful with just a picture of a hamburger and the company’s branded symbol.  This is simple, short and easy to remember.

The Number of Billboards in a Campaign

The more people that see your billboard, the better the advertising campaign will be. By placing an ad on a billboard of all or many of the major roads in a metropolitan area, more people will be viewing your message every day.

Static vs Moving Components

A static message relies on the words and image alone.

  • Very popular.
  • Lowest cost.
  • Least noticed unless the image and message hit with the public.


Moving components is action that automatically catches the eyes of those passing by.

  • Can be as simple as an arm moving back and forth on a static image.
  • Costs are higher, but are noticed by more.
    • When done correctly are very well remembered.

The Logo

Never forget the company logo and make sure it stands out. It is the logo that is branded with the public.

  • This has to be large enough on the outdoor billboard to be noticed but small enough not to be overpowering.

As in the movies and entertainment industry has recently shown, getting your message out to the public can be accomplished very successfully with outdoor billboards. The secret is to make the message short, sweet and to the point.