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

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

Out of Home (OOH) advertising is arguably one of the oldest forms of advertising, and certainly one of the most effective. Outdoor advertising is not just simple – it works. After decades of steady growth (32 consecutive quarters), it’s clear that outdoor advertising continues to work in the digital age.

We’ve put together a complete resource of everything a brand needs to know when advertising outdoors in Wisconsin. Below you’ll find information gathered from WisDOT, the Wisconsin State Outdoor Advertising Association and other public record information sites. 

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 (Nationwide)

Before you can outdoor advertise in the state of Wisconsin, you should first understand the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which applies to all 50 states. signed by Pres. Lindon B. Johnson, the Highway Beautification Act protects the aesthetics of roadways in residential and agricultural areas by limiting the size, number and frequency of outdoor advertisements. 

In addition to the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, outdoor advertisers must also conform to the Highway Advertising Control Act of 1971, which regulates:

  • The spacing between ads.
  • The type of lighting and ad can utilize.
  • The proximity of ads in commercial, rural, and industrial areas. 

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.

In short – The Highway Beautification Act protects the scenic, commercial, residential and agricultural areas of the country from intrusive outdoor advertisements. While federal law applies to every state, each state enforces its own set of outdoor advertising legislation. States typically sort their counties into regions which allows for smaller regulation regions.

Wisconsin State Trucking Highway System

Wisconsin law prohibits the erection of outdoor ads on any portion of the rural or urban state trunk highway system right of way, which includes all numbered highways (Interstate, U.S. and state).

The highway right of way in rural areas extends beyond both shoulders, any ditches and all adjoining fence line. In urban areas, the boulevard medians, the terrace area between sidewalks, and the street itself are considered part of the highway, and are therefore off-limits to outdoor advertising. 

Wisconsin Outdoor (OOH) Advertising License

OOH outdoor ads in wisconsin say cheese

To outdoor advertise in the State of Wisconsin a brand must first obtain an Outdoor Advertising License.

Any person or company that erects or maintains more than two signs in Wisconsin in a calendar year is required by law to pay an annual license fee of $250.

The annual license fee does not apply to persons erecting on-property (or on-premises) signs that advertise their own business.

Additionally, a state permit is required to legally erect an off-property sign on private lands if the sign is adjacent to a state-controlled highway. To obtain an outdoor advertising installation permit a brand must:

These checklists can help you prepare your outdoor sign installation permit application according to the category of sign for which you are applying.

Regional coordinators (outdoor advertising signing contacts) utilize these checklists as a guide when reviewing your sign installation application.

Which Wisconsin Region Does My County Fall Under? 

Brands seeking an outdoor advertising license in Wisconsin must first determine the outdoor advertising region their ad will be located. 

Each country in Wisconsin belongs to one of five regions. Each region is administered by an outdoor advertising regional coordinator. See below for a list of counties and which regions they fall under.

North Central Region

Rhinelander

  • Florence
  • Forest
  • Iron
  • Langlade
  • Menominee
  • Oneida
  • Price
  • Shawano
  • Vilas 

Wisconsin Rapids

  • Adams
  • Green Lake
  • Lincoln
  • Marathon
  • Marquette
  • Portage
  • Waupaca
  • Waushara 
  • Wood 

(715) 421-8082
1681 Second Avenue South
Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54495

Northeast Region

Green Bay

  • Brown
  • Calumet
  • Door
  • Fond du Lac
  • Kewaunee
  • Manitowoc
  • Marinette
  • Oconto
  • Outagamie
  • Sheboygan
  • Winnebago


(715) 421-8082
1681 Second Avenue South
Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54495

Northwest Region

Superior

  • Ashland
  • Barron
  • Bayfield
  • Burnett
  • Douglas
  • Polk
  • Rusk
  • Sawyer
  • Taylor
  • Washburn

Eau Claire

  • Buffalo
  • Chippewa
  • Clark
  • Dunn
  • Eau Claire
  • Jackson
  • Pepin,
  • Pierce
  • St. Croix
  • Trempealeau


(608) 785-9031
3550 Mormon Coulee Road
La Crosse, WI 54601

Southeast Region

  • Kenosha
  • Milwaukee
  • Ozaukee
  • Racine
  • Walworth
  • Washington
  • Waukesha

(414) 750-1728
141 NW Barstow Street
Waukesha, WI 53187-0798

Southwest Region

La Crosse

  • Crawford
  • Grant, Juneau
  • La Crosse
  • Monroe
  • Richland
  • Vernon


(608) 785-9031
3550 Mormon Coulee Road
La Crosse, WI 54601

Madison

  • Columbia
  • Dane
  • Dodge
  • Green
  • Iowa
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Rock
  • Sauk


(608) 246-7906
2101 Wright Street
Madison, WI 53704

WisDOT Statewide

(608) 266-3611

(608) 266-6703
4822 Madison Yards Way, 5th Floor South
Madison, WI 53705

Mandate # Rule/Regulation Takeaway
84.30 Regulation of outdoor advertising. 4a1 The maximum areas for any one sign shall be 1,200 square feet with a maximum height of 30 feet and maximum length of 60 feet, inclusive of any border and trim but excluding the base or apron, supports and other structural members. Single signs and billboards must be no larger than 1,200 sq ft. 
84.30 Regulation of outdoor advertising. 4bm2   Signs containing multiple messages (such as rotating billboards) must remain in a fixed position for at least 6 seconds to minimize driver distraction. 
84.30 Regulation of outdoor advertising.   Signs must be 500 ft from other billboards and signs on the highway
84.30 Regulation of outdoor advertising 5m Mars Cheese Castle signs in Kenosha County. Notwithstanding any other provision of law and any local ordinance or other restrictions on signs, the Mars Cheese Castle business in Kenosha County may relocate its on-premises signs located near the intersection of I 94 and STH 142 in Kenosha County and maintain such signs at their new location. Mars Cheese Castle can do pretty much whatever it wants. 

Top 5 Rules for OOH Advertisements in Wisconsin

The majority of outdoor advertising space in Wisconsin is owned by a third party vendor.  These vendors are likely to help you with the specifics of your ad, but you should still be versed in the basics of outdoor advertising before you run off and rent a billboard that doesn’t help your business. 

Make sure your content is localized for Wisconsinites

Wisconsin lawmakers and associations alike prioritize local businesses over national ones. In fact, the majority of billboards in Wisconsin only advertise for local businesses. A very small percentage of billboards in Wisconsin display national based ads. 

Customize your messaging specifically for a Wisconsin based audience will have the greatest effect, and yield the greatest return.

Don’t Block Scenic Areas

Wisconsinites are outdoorsy folk, they do not appreciate intrusive ads that disrupt the natural scenery. 

Don’t Distract the Driver

One of the main reasons for the highway beautification act is to prevent driving distractions. Excessive, intrusive, and eye-catching ads result in distracted, unsafe driving. Therefore, your outdoor ad and/or billboard must deliver its message without distracting the driver.

Ads that are too distracted will certainly have a negative impact on your brand sentiment, if the state allows your ad to run at all.  

Make Sense Immediately

The average viewer looks at a billboard for less than six seconds, which means you have less than that to make an impression. 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. Remember, viewers are on the move when they see your ad, so it should make sense with very little thought from the viewer. 

Don’t Expect an Immediate ROI + More Ads Leads to Higher Success

Direct 1:1 returns on outdoor advertising investments are rare. Brands should not expect their billboard or outdoor ad to result in immediate traffic or KPIs the same way that PPC or even SEO campaigns will.

It’s important to keep in mind that your ads help to support who your brand is and what you offer. Outdoor advertising should be part of a larger branding campaign, and marketing strategy.

OOH advertisements is designed to keep your brand top of mind for your audience. 

Though 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.That’s why we recommend running multiple outdoor ads in various locations for greater marketing power. 10-15+ billboards is a great starting number to get your brand noticed and remembered, in the least amount of time.

Standard Billboard Size Dimensions in Wisconsin

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

Bulletin billboards are the largest standard-sized ad that delivers the max amount of exposure to viewers on expressways, highways and primary transit arteries. Bulletins are generally 14 ft x 48 ft, with half of an inch bleed on all sides.

OOH outdoor ads in wisconsin billboard size standards

Image source

Retrofit Poster Panel Standard Billboard Size

Retrofit and poster billboard ads are generally smaller, and more affordable than traditional highway bulletin billboards. Due to their size, poster billboards are common 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.

OOH outdoor ads in wisconsin poster billboard size

Image Source

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

The amount of OOH impressions within a desired market or demographic is calculated in Gross Rating Points – expressed as a percentage; one rating point represents an ad’s impressions equal to 1% of the market population.

To calculate GRP for billboards, multiply the number of target consumers with in a region by the percentage of people that are likely to see your ad in the target market. Then multiply that percentage by the number of ads found in you 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  your ad will be seen by your target audience at least once, and how many times they need to see it for the ad to be effective.

Other Useful Wisconsin OOH Links 

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

Commoot’s Competes with Wisconsin OOH Ads – and Wins

Commot ads stand out in the world of outdoor advertising. Our ads are not stationary -they adorne the backs of moving vehicles, and are therefore immune to many state regulations that can hamper the effectiveness of an outdoor advertisement. 

Commoot ads result in 7x longer impression than billboards. Since the ad messaging is found on the truck itself, Commoot ads aren’t restricted in controlled highway areas, scenic bypass routes, or in residential and commercial areas. Wherever your audience is, that’s where Commoot ads go. 

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

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