Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The future of billboards is up in the air

Billboards are hard to like. They clutter the landscape. They can distract drivers. And when they're bad, they're really bad.

But here's another thing about billboards: when done right, they can be tremendously effective.

Outdoor advertising is enjoying a resurgence of sorts, especially compared to TV, radio, and print. While other media struggle with changing consumption habits, and as audiences discover new ways to avoid ads, billboards remain as conspicuous as ever. There's no way to change the channel or fast forward past a billboard, making them an increasingly attractive option for advertisers looking to maximize their return on investment.

Outdoor advertising companies are looking to capitalize on this recent success by employing new technologies to give advertisers even more options. One trend, discussed in a recent article on Fortune.com, is digital billboards. Instead of using paper or vinyl, digital boards consist of nothing more than pixels, meaning the production cost (other than creative) is $0, and the message can be changed in seconds. The Fortune story details some of the benefits:

Rather than a business of months-long contracts and time-consuming ad installations, billboards would become real-time competitors to local newspaper advertising (as if newspapers needed yet another headache). Instead of alerting drivers to a Denny's restaurant three exits away, billboards could advertise a nearby open house scheduled for that day or a sale at a local supermarket or a public service announcement. Reilly notes that the Cincinnati Reds used digital billboards to announce its starting pitcher for a same-day game.
There's one downside not mentioned in the Fortune story, however: when you advertise on a paper or vinyl board, you own the space all day and night for the entire length of your contract. With digital boards, your ad rotates with other messages, meaning that traffic can miss it depending on the number ads in the rotation (the fortune story says the ads change every 6 - 10 seconds).

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ind., on I-65, and saw a couple of new digital boards firsthand. My take is that given the additional expense associated with digital board space, they only make sense for advertisers who have a time-sensitive message, and even then the pros and cons should be considered carefully. This is especially true for Indiana advertisers: because digital boards are fairly new to the Hoosier state, digital board availability is scarce. That means you'll pay even more for the seconds of exposure you'll receive.

1 comment:

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