Innovative Restaurant Billboards

By Rich Parubrub
Group Creative Director

Restaurants love advertising on television. Why wouldn’t they? Thirty second commercials allow for visual footage of mouth-watering food, happy well-fed guests and hospitable servers. TV spots also easily feature brand cues like quality ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere and great customer service.

On the other executional end, billboards usually end up as support pieces for marketing campaigns. Relegated to minimally worded headlines, or as directional pieces indicating where to exit off the interstate to find a certain restaurant.

But in their most innovative form, billboards can engage your target audience in ways other mediums can’t. All while still delivering brand messages.

Here are a few examples along with a little insight as to why they worked so well.

To convey Desaki’s dynamic dining atmosphere, the hibachi restaurant placed two billboards on opposite sides of a highway. A chef on one billboard appeared to flip a shrimp across the road to a diner on the other board.

By playing with a sense of space and allowing people to connect the dots between two related images, a memorable execution results.

As with most other steakhouses, the Double Grill & Bar chargrills their steaks. But unlike the competition, when they chose to advertise that fact, they literally set their billboard – which at first featured a picture of a steak with no branding – on fire. At night, two men dressed as chefs set the billboard alight in vertical lines to mirror the chargrill effect.

After they finished, they added the restaurant’s logo and details. When morning came, passersby saw the appetizing end-product and where to go to eat it.

Whatever treatment is given to the product may also be given to the medium.

When Donatos wanted to advertise their new hand-tossed pizza, they featured their product on the left half of their billboard. Then on the right half, they created a mock newsman who appeared to take a cheesy slice for himself.

If only part of the physical allotment of space is used, the rest can be dummied up to alter reality.

With their tagline of “Your World Kitchen”, Noodles & Company wanted to tout their dishes from across the globe. They did so with a billboard that referenced the origins of the different cars underneath it.

A message can be strengthened when referencing the surrounding area to support it.

When it comes to billboard innovation, McDonalds has plenty of out-of-the-box executions. To promote their triple thick milkshakes, they brought the upside-down proof point test to life.

Product shots visually stand out if the billboard structure itself can be used.

To advertise their breakfast menu, they used a sundial to point to which items was appropriate for specific morning hours.

Interactivity with the environment attracts attention.

To convey that they use fresh greens in their salads, the sixteen varieties of lettuce found in those salads were grown on a soil-based billboard over a three-week period.

Stunts that occur over time build suspense as people began to wonder about – and wait for – the final reveal.

And any discussion on innovative billboards would not be complete without including Chik-fil-A’s cows. The pleading bovines first appeared over 20 years ago, in the middle of painting their message of “Eat Mor Chickin”. Below is one of their more recent executions for the restaurant’s grilled chicken sandwich.

Three-dimensional extensions or embellishments help get billboards noticed.

Our roads are blanketed with run-of-the-mill outdoor advertising. But these examples clearly show that billboards can be so much more than short headlines, food pics with price points or exit ramp reminders. With a little creativity and the willingness to do something different, people will be more apt to remember what’s being advertised. And more likely to come into your restaurant when hunger strikes.

Li Brown