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Must-Know Info for Out of Home (OOH) Advertising in Illinois

What advertisers, brands, and billboard companies should know when running Outdoor/OOH campaigns in Chicago and Illinois.

Out of Home (OOH) advertising, also known as Outdoor Advertising, has been around for centuries, and doesn’t show any signs (pun INtended) of slowing down. In fact, the OOH industry has seen steady growth for 32 consecutive quarters. While there are some aspects of OOH campaigns that are critical in any state or location, Illinois specifically has several limitations and regulations that advertisers, brands, and 3rd party billboard companies must all adhere to when delivering effective and successful OOH ads.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 (Nationwide)

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 (and later, the Highway Advertising Control Act of 1971)’s purpose is to protect residential (home) and agricultural (farm) areas from the intrusion of outdoor advertising signs, and to control the sizing, lighting, and overall spacing of all signs in commercial or industrial areas.

This act also protects the U.S.A.’s highways and roads in more specific ways. For example, this act prevents scenic bypasses, commercial areas, and overall what we see when we get into a vehicle from getting crowded, distracting, and ‘ugly’ from too many ads.

Different types of businesses and signage are subject to different laws. For example, a sign for a business that is located on that business’s property is subject to a certain set of laws, while a sign for a business that is not located on that business’s property is subject to other laws.

The main thing to remember: all local and state laws do still apply to all federal regulations. Federal laws mostly make intuitive sense, while state laws may be dependant on specific rules and regulations for specific areas. Most states break up their counties into “districts”, which allows for smaller regulation regions.

What are “Controlled Routes” in Illinois?

What is a Controlled Route? For the state of Illinois, there are several highways (“routes”) on which advertisements are limited for beautification purposes. This “control” of the routes and its impact on OOH advertisements varies in a number of ways. Some variables include the size, spacing, and surrounding ads of the billboards themselves. Others variables include commercial versus industrial routes, the age of billboard (some old billboards get ‘grandfathered’ in when they may not qualify for current regulations), and the layout of the roads surrounding the billboards.

Controlled routes have their own rules and regulations that apply to OOH ads in Illinois, in addition to local, state, and federal laws. Usually, controlled routes mean that fewer ads are allowed, with a tighter restriction on subject matter. See the map below for Illinois Highway routes that are currently controlled.

Illinois Highway Routes that Are Along Controlled Routes

  • Great River Road
  • Historic National Road
  • Historic Route 66
  • Illinois River Road
  • Lincoln Highway, National Scenic Byway
  • Meeting of the Great Rivers Road, National Scenic Byway
  • Ohio River Scenic Byway
  • GAP
  • View Full Map

Which Illinois District Does My County Fall Under?

When applying for a billboard or OOH sign permit, or when learning more about which laws and regulations your OOH ad must adhere to, the state of Illinois is divided up into 9 districts. To begin an application for signage approval, you’ll first need to figure out which district your billboard will be located in. If you plan to place a highway billboard advertisement, you’ll need to check to see if your sign is placed in a controlled route.

If you know the county in which your ad will be placed, you can find out which district that location belongs to. See below for a list of counties and which districts they fall under.

Illinois District 1

  • Cook
  • DuPage
  • Kane
  • Lake
  • McHenry
  • Will

Illinois District 2

  • Boone
  • Carroll
  • Henry
  • JoDaviess
  • Lee
  • Ogle
  • Rock Island
  • Stephenson
  • Winnebago
  • Whiteside

Illinois District 3

  • Bureau
  • DeKalb
  • Ford
  • Grundy
  • Iroquois
  • Kankakee
  • Kendall
  • LaSalle
  • Livingston

Illinois District 4

  • Fulton
  • Henderson
  • Knox
  • Marshall
  • McDonough
  • Mercer
  • Peoria
  • Putman
  • Stark
  • Tazewell
  • Warren
  • Woodford

Illinois District 5

  • Champaign
  • DeWitt
  • Douglas
  • Edgar
  • McLean
  • Piatt
  • Vermilion

Illinois District 6

  • Adams
  • Brown
  • Cass
  • Christian
  • Hancock
  • Logan
  • Macoupin
  • Mason
  • Menard
  • Montgomery
  • Morgan
  • Pike
  • Sangamon
  • Schuyler
  • Scott

Illinois District 7

  • Clark
  • Clay
  • Coles
  • Crawford
  • Cumberland
  • Edwards
  • Effingham
  • Fayette
  • Jasper
  • Lawrence
  • Macon
  • Moultrie
  • Richland
  • Shelby
  • Wabash
  • Wayne

Illinois District 8

  • Bond
  • Calhoun
  • Clinton
  • Greene
  • Jersey
  • Madison
  • Marion
  • Monroe
  • Randolph
  • St. Clair
  • Washington

Illinois District 9

  • Alexander
  • Franklin
  • Gallatin
  • Hamilton
  • Hardin
  • Jackson
  • Jefferson
  • Johnson
  • Massac
  • Perry
  • Pope
  • Pulaski
  • Saline
  • Union
  • White
  • Williamson

Below are some main takeaways regarding the rules and regulations of OOH advertising in Illinois. These are just a few of the most important things to keep in mind when running Outdoor Ad campaigns in Illinois.

To view the full administrative code, please visit Part 522 Control of Outdoor Advertising Adjacent to Primary and Interstate Highways, or IDOT’s Illinois Outdoor Advertising Guidelines.

Rule/Regulation Mandate # Takeaway
Section 522.150  Signs that may not be Erected or Maintained SECTION 522.150, Section 9-112.2 No Arrows, Maps, Or images that otherwise imply influence on the direction or movement of traffic
Section 522.150  Signs that may not be Erected or Maintained SECTION 522.150, Section 9-112.2 No rotating, flashing, intermittent or moving light or lights
No such sign may be erected along the same side of an interstate highway or expressway within five hundred feet of another such sign structure or location where another such sign has been permitted but not yet erected. Section 522.200  Standards for Signs in Business Areas Billboards can only be on one side of the road
Billboards must be 500ft (as the crow flies) apart from other OOH ads. Section 522.200  Standards for Signs in Business Areas Billboards must be 500ft (as the crow flies) apartment
Spacing requirements mean that billboards must be a certain distance away from each other, can’t distract from one another, and cannot draw the viewer’s eye too far off of the road. Section 522.200  Standards for Signs in Business Areas Signs are limited by other signs around them.
Rules and Regulations Can Differ Greatly Between Districts Section 522.200  Standards for Signs in Business Areas Rules and Regulations Can Differ Greatly Between Districts
Controlled Routes mean restrictions on Outdoor advertisements Section 522.200  Standards for Signs in Business Areas Controlled Routes mean restrictions on Outdoor advertisements

Top 5 Rules for OOH Advertisements in Illinois

Chances are, if you’re putting up a billboard OOH advertisement somewhere in the Chicago area (or anywhere in Illinois), you’re working with a third party vendor that owns the physical  billboards themselves. They’ll likely help you with the specifics of your ads, but it’s still good to know a thing or two going into the conversation. It’ll make placing and running your ads that much easier.

Billboard OOH Ads Should Have Less Than 10 Words

The average viewer looks at a billboard for less than six seconds, and one of the main weaknesses with billboard and outdoor advertisements is the fact that the viewer is nearly always on the move when viewing your ad. This means that your billboards should be short, to the point, and easy to read in just a few seconds. Keep your messaging clear and concise.

Don’t Distract The Viewer

One of the main reasons for highway beautification acts and regulations surrounding what can and cannot be displayed on highway advertisements is to prevent distractions. Too many ads, extra eye-catching ads, or ads that are too close together can result in distracted, unsafe driving. It should go without saying that your outdoor ad and/or billboard needs to deliver your messaging – without distracting your viewer.

Illinois drivers are no strangers to distracted driving causing traffic, dangerous driving conditions, or worse, accidents. You can bet that if your ad is distracting, it will have a negative impact on your brand sentiment, if your ad is allowed to run at all.

Make Sense Immediately

Another aspect of OOH in IL that should go without saying – your billboard needs to make sense with very little extra thought from the viewer. Viewers are on the move when viewing your ad – whether they’re driving, commuting, biking, etc., your ad needs to make complete sense immediately.

Especially in the more densely populated areas of Illinois, people see hundreds if not thousands of ads every single day. It’s more important than ever to create a branded experience that differentiates you from your competitors and jumps out at viewers (without distracting them).

Don’t Expect an Immediate ROI

No one should expect a direct 1:1 return on their investments from any type of outdoor ad. Outdoor advertising is a part of a strong branding campaign. Chances are, your billboard or outdoor ad will not result in immediate traffic or KPIs the same way that PPC or even SEO campaigns will.

Current impression-based advertising remains lacking in trackable, accurate metrics. It’s important to keep in mind that your ads help to support who your brand is and what you offer. It keeps your brand top of mind for your audience. Because impression-based ad campaigns don’t provide the same type of tracking and feedback that clickable, web based campaigns do, it’s recommended to run multiple outdoor ads in various locations for full marketing power.

More Ads Leads to Higher Success

While tracking for billboards and other OOH ads can be difficult to measure, branding-based ad campaigns are shown to perform better when there are multiple instances of your brand across a city, state, or region. The more eyes that see your brand and receive your messaging, the more successful your branding power will be.

Illinois has thousands of billboard location options throughout the most populated areas and on the most trafficked routes. It’s recommended that when running outdoor ad campaigns, 10-15+ billboards is a great starting number to get your brand noticed and remembered.

What is the Standard Billboard Size Dimensions?

When creating an out of home ad, you’ll need to know the dimensions of the different types of billboards. See below for a full reference.

Bulletin Standard Billboard Size

A Bulletin is the largest standard-sized billboard that delivers the max amount of exposure to viewers on expressways, highways and primary roads and routes. Bulletins are generally 14 ft x 48 ft, with half of an inch bleed on all sides.

Image source

Retrofit Poster Panel Standard Billboard Size

Retrofit and Poster Out oh Home ads are generally smaller (and thus less costly) than traditional highway bulletin billboards. Poster billboards can be found in residential communities, commercial areas, and near gyms, restaurants, and main streets. Posters are often preferred to billboards when a business is new, launching a new line or product, or looking to advertise on billboards for a lower cost.

Image Source

What are Gross Rating Points, and Why Do They Matter in Out Of Home Advertising?

Gross Rating Points (GRP) are the combined amount of impressions within a desired market or demographic an Outdoor/OOH campaign will see. This number is expressed as a percentage; one rating point represents that ad’s impressions equal to 1% of the market population.

To calculate GRP for billboards, take the total number of people within a demographic, and determine how many of those people fall into your target market. Next, you’ll calculate the percentage of how many people in your newly defined target market are likely to come across your ad. Finally, you’ll multiple that percentage by the number of ads found in the target market. For example, if you advertise to 30% of the target market and have 4 ads or “exposures”, your campaign would have 120 GRP.

This metric can be useful in gauging how likely to it that your ad will 1. Get seen by those in your target audience at least once, and 2. Get seen enough times to have the message be effective.

Other Useful OOH Links

In addition to the links included in the narrative section the following links are provided for your convenience:

Commoot Competes with OOH Ads in Illinois – and Wins

apple OOH Illinois advertising mockup commoot

Since Commoot ads can be found on the backs of vehicles that are also moving and are directly in front of the viewer, common frustrations and regulations within the OOH space simply do not apply to Commoot ads. Commoot ads result in 7x longer impression times, or “dwell times”, than billboards and other outdoor ads. Since the ad messaging is found on the truck itself, Commoot ads aren’t restricted in controlled highway areas, on scenic bypass routes, or in residential and commercial areas the way that billboards are.

commoot ads in illinois chicago traffic

Ready to learn more about Commoot? Let’s go!

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