7 min read

Startup Billboards of the Silicon Valley

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What do tech startups do when they need to drum up some attention? They turn to the outdoors.

As the world’s leading digital mecca, Silicon Valley has become the epicenter of the global tech industry. The San Francisco Bay Area is the biggest high-tech manufacturing center in the United States, with Silicon Valley having the highest concentration of tech workers of any metropolitan area. The audiences are diverse, urban, affluent, and highly educated.

In Silicon Valley, outdoor advertising provides an integrated and targeted platform to connect budding companies to their desired audiences as they go about their daily journeys. Big canvases don’t just get you noticed – they drive engagement and build trust. For this reason, some of the most expensive property in Silicon Valley overlooks the 101 Freeway and soar about 14-feet high.

There’s something a bit ironic about modern, highly innovative tech companies turning to the oldest form of advertising. And that’s because out-of-home (OOH) advertising offers value you can’t quite find in the digital realm. OOH audiences are responsive and eager for the distraction. More importantly, OOH offers a direct link to the consumer.

The world of digital advertising continues to get more fragmented by the day. Billboards and other outdoor media reach your audience where they are and provide the repetitive exposure your brand needs to stick in people’s minds.

Also, out-of-home has gone digital as well. Leveraging technology in your OOH ads can make your campaigns more targeted, efficient, and trackable. Out-of-home creates an excellent opportunity for startups to find new customers, build their brand, and grow their businesses.

Tech Giants and Startups Turn To Traditional Advertising For Attention

Where are leading tech companies spending their marketing dollars?

Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple lead the charge when it comes to digital advertising. As a matter of fact, these companies run the online advertising space. Yet, all these companies are investing heavily in out-of-home advertising. You can’t go outside without running into an Apple billboard, same case with Netflix and Amazon.

It might be ironic to some why companies use a traditional marketing medium to advertise progressive products and concepts. Even with incredible access to digital marketing, OOH carries a significant percentage of their advertising media text. As a tech brand, outdoor media presents the opportunity to use large creative canvases in the real world to direct consumers to the smaller screens on which they do business – from IRL to URL.

And it’s not just the major brands. Startups are also turning to billboards to spread the word about their brands. Some of these companies are skipping digitally native advertisements altogether. Digital advertising platforms like Google are heavily regulated, which might impact the reach of brands with highly niche or controversial products.

Eaze, a cannabis delivery company, had to turn to the outdoors simply because it had no other choice. Even backed by over $50 million in investment funding, the company couldn’t advertise online due to how restricted and regulated the industry is in the current environment. These restrictions resulted in a horde of Eaze billboards covering the drive from Highway 80 to Sacramento.

Brex, another million-dollar startup, also used billboards to build brand awareness despite not facing the same restrictions as Eaze. The company employed outdoor ads to saturate the marketplace by covering Silicon Valley with billboards—in an effort to generate the feeling that Brex was everywhere.

As it turns out, billboards are not-so-old school. For startups, a billboard campaign offers your brand authenticity in the eyes of the consumer. Adding a billboard to your marketing mix can legitimize your brand and improve your brand’s overall reputation. In a world where people are inundated with intrusive online ads, billboards are the key to creating experiences that form positive emotional bonds with your customers.

Integration of the Real World and Digital World

Billboards are big and loud. They occupy a unique place in the advertising landscape because of their commanding physical presence. Plus, they aren’t short-lived like radio, TV, or internet advertising. There is power in a billboard that other advertising channels just cannot match.

OOH is about merging digital with the transient. Nowadays, OOH’s connection to digital media is stronger than ever, driving 4X more social and digital activations than any other media. It’s also important to note that 1 in 4 Americans has interacted with an OOH ad on Instagram and other socials.

Tech companies are pairing their digital advertising efforts with OOH ads to drive consumer action. Billboards are a powerful step in the purchasing funnel; these solutions work by exposing your brand to the right audience at the right time in their journey.

Furthermore, billboards make financial sense with an ROI of $2 to $5 for every dollar invested. They’re engaging and highly effective at guiding people online to learn about your brand. Billboards are also a great way to draw the attention of investors.

Silicon Valley is a startup haven. The location doesn’t just attract tech startups but venture capitalists and angel investors too. Similar brands and industries tend to become concentrated in particular regions. Your next investor might just find you as they drive along US Route 101.

Where to Advertise in Silicon Valley

So where do you start? Here are some options below:

1. Billboards

In Silicon Valley, brands are built on the roadways. On your ride from the San Francisco International Airport into the tech hub, you’ll be greeted with a slew of billboards advertising products ranging from corporate credit cards to cannabis.

Often located along major highways, intersections, and integral choke points, billboards are an effective way to introduce your company and its offerings to the public. Billboard sales in the region are experiencing a renaissance precisely for this reason.

Billboards place your brand front and centre where people live, work, and play. Traffic on the 101 Freeway between San Francisco and San Jose is slow, ensuring your branding receives a long-term presence and tremendous visibility. Like other outdoor media, billboards can be targeted by market, location, and demographic. This way, you can accurately pinpoint your audience and meet them where they’re in their journey.

In a city that’s only 7 miles by 7 miles but with a population of over 800,000 people, it’s possible to make a powerful impact with billboards and bulletins. Billboards in San Francisco are typically located in heavy traffic areas. You can reach consumers along the I-80, US Route 101, US 1, I-280, State Route 35, and State Route 82.

Another popular option is Wallscapes attached to prime real estate in the South Bay area. These advertisement platforms come in a wide variety of unusual shapes and sizes, gifting you the creative freedom you need to make an impact. Like billboards, this OOH format has an enormous social and online impact.

But outdoor advertising isn’t limited to just billboards. Let’s look at other OOH formats that can help you build brand recognition.

2. Transit Media

The city of San Francisco has over 21 million monthly mass transit riders. Many of whom are commuting in and out of Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) connects the tech mecca through bus, rail, cable cars, and trolleys.

With one of the largest bus and rail networks in the United States, the SFMTA delivers unbeatable eye-level transit media. Transit media provide a massive, mobile canvas allowing you to create traffic-stopping moments and achieve deep market penetration.

Transit inventory available in the Silicon Valley market includes everything from bus and rail media to station media and parking garage coverage. With the wide variety of options available, you can boost the visibility of your brand and leave a lasting impression on commuters as they make their way through San Francisco streets and suburbs.

3. Street Media

Street-level is streetwise. A large percentage of residents in Silicon Valley use public transportation, and a considerable number of residents walk or bike to work. Because of this, street furniture advertising can help your business get noticed, primarily when located in heavily trafficked areas such as major public transportation arteries, shopping districts, and downtown cores.

Create a memorable presence in Silicon Valley’s busiest streets with static or digital street furniture media. Street media offers the perfect opportunity to create eye-level, eye-catching advertisements that engage consumers as they walk their dog or head out on their lunch break.

There’s a wide variety of media available to target both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, including bike shares, bus shelters, city information panel advertising, metro lights, and more. Street furniture media delivers mass exposures and can be tailored to target a specific audience.

4. Airport Media

A significant part of outdoor advertising is reaching consumers in major transit hubs. The San Francisco (SFO) International Airport offers some excellent advertising opportunities. With four terminals and seven concourses, you can deliver your brand’s offerings to business and leisure travelers through large format and experiential ads.

Since the airport is so large and so busy, advertising at SFO is incredibly effective. Hesitant about buying airport media? Here are three reasons why airport advertising can help you reach a uniquely affluent and captive audience.

  • Airport travelers are generally active, affluent customers
  • Frequent flyers are typically key business decision-makers
  • Travelers spend a significant amount of time in airports going through ticketing, security, and baggage claims. The high dwell times and multiple exposures result in high-frequency ad campaigns.

Billboards by the Bay: The Secret to Advertising in Silicon Valley

What’s so special about highway 101?

While the advertising industry is no stranger to weird ads, Silicon Valley has garnered a reputation for advertising that makes little to no sense – at first glance, that is. Of course, you’ll find ads from the usual suspects. Still, most billboards ads along Silicon Valley’s busiest highway belong to tech companies that are masters at tailoring their marketing messages to their target audience.

Most people driving along the highway have no clue what these companies do unless they’re the target audience. Creative drives ad effectiveness, and billboards are the perfect inventory for this. To stand out in the Bay Area’s most congested roadways, you need a creative that speaks directly to your consumers.

The idea here is not to alienate those who don’t understand your messaging but rather to pique their curiosity. Let’s look at some brands that got this right.

1. What’s Twilio?


Let’s say you’re driving through San Francisco and come across Twilio’s huge, red billboard that simply says “Ask Your Developer.” You can be sure that Twilio comes up in regular conversations among developers, and the company knows this. They just want other people to know that developers know it exists, including potential investors and c-suite executives who carry decision-making authority.

By using subtle messaging, Twilio suggests that its products and services are crucial to unleashing the potential of developer teams.

2. Lyft’s Pink Van


In 2016, Lyft paid to paint the iconic van on a stick next to the 101 Freeway pink. Not your usual billboard, in fact not a billboard at all, but it was a unique way to announce the company’s presence in the building behind it. The building was Lyft’s first dedicated space for drivers to hang out with each other and rest between rides.

3. What is Z2?


Indeed, what is Z2? Unless you were already using the Zenefits HR software platform, chances are you wouldn’t pay much attention to this ad. Z2 was an update to the Zenefits platform that solved most of its existing problems.

Building Your Brand With OOH

Without a doubt, billboards are powerful. The biggest advantage of billboards is that they bring your brand into the space where your audience lives and works. You can choose to amuse or arouse curiosity in your target audience – these two tactics are a proven way to create a lasting impression and connect with your audience.

For startups, building connections is achieved by targeting a particular area and demographic. Even though billboards have a broad reach, it’s the specific messaging that leads to “aha” moments. And, of course, billboard ads are unskippable and pretty hard to ignore. They give your customers repeated exposure to your brand, which goes a long way in creating bonds.

Most importantly, billboards lend legitimacy to your brand, bringing it to the forefront of your niche. Out-of-home campaigns build trust, and people are more likely to engage with brands they encounter in the outdoors. To a startup, building a sense of trust among its consumer base is everything. It ensures the survival of your brand and helps you create an engaged and loyal community of customers.

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