David Heinemeier Hansson

April 10, 2023

We spent $300K on billboards in Boston and it was a bust

Our 2023 marketing campaign for Basecamp kicked off on a ton of different channels at once. Web ads, search ads, podcast ads, and TV ads all blasted the message of JUST LET ME DO MY JOB. Our flagship commercial was a hit with the audience and the critics. But our attempt at out-of-home advertising, with billboards all over Boston, was a bust at a $300,000 cost.

That's advertisement! It's hard to know what's going to work unless you give it a go. And since we're fighting competitors with one hand behind our back by refusing to use privacy-invasive ads targeted on personal data, we thought it was worth trying some more conventional channels, like billboards. But at least for software like Basecamp, it's clear that isn't likely to work.

It's not that it did nothing. We did have 98 billboards all over Boston for about a month. But the effect was only barely measurable:


As you can see, we were at the top end of the predicted normal range, or even slightly above. But even with that, we ended up spending thousands of dollars on every attributable trial signup. Way outside the realm of anything we could claim a return on, even if you factored in a fair bit of long-run brand awareness.

I will say that it felt pretty cool to see the irreverent Basecamp marketing messages appear on building-hugging billboards. There was an emotionally gratifying return on the investment. And perhaps that explains why it used to be common to see business software advertised in places like San Francisco where a lot of executives of such companies could feel good about seeing them. There's something gratifying about being in the real world like this.

But yeah, it didn't work. We won't be doing that again. But we'll always have the pictures 😄

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.