Consider the humble billboard. While television and radio advertisements contain cleverly worded pitches, attention-grabbing sound effects, and flashy graphics, outdoor market schema remain rooted to the ground waiting for passers-by to take notice. In fact, since coming into being in the 1830s, the format of large-scale outdoor advertising has changed very little in comparison to other advertising channels. Marketers affix flexible vinyl wraps to a building or scaffolding in a high-traffic area and hope that consumers look up to see it.
In the past 20 years a combination of innovative design and technological advancement has begun to change the way outdoor advertising reaches the public. With the proliferation of video screens and smart phones, demand for the attention of consumers is greater than ever before. In response, marketers have invested in digital displays and interactive advertising components continue to push outdoor advertising in unanticipated ways.
Outdoor Marketing Then and Now
Today outdoor advertising can be found all over American cities: on garbage cans, bus shelters, taxi cabs, and skyscrapers, not to mention along interstates. The use of large outdoor advertisements, 50 square feet or greater, began in New York in 1835 with posters advertising a circus. By 1900, the standard billboard structure, backed by steel scaffolding, had emerged. It took the development of an interstate highway system and automobile commuting for marketers to truly seize the opportunity of nationwide outdoor advertising.
- History of Outdoor Advertising details the beginnings of modern outdoor marketing from large-scale posters in the 1830s to the present.
- Roadside America, Then and Now is a digital collection from Duke University documenting the history of outdoor advertising along America’s highways.
- This How Products Are Made tutorial describes the process of manufacturing the images on billboards, which typically use a screen-printing process on vinyl backing.
Degrees of Marketing Regulation
The advertising industry continues to regulate its outdoor advertising, especially the major trade organizations like OAAA, AAAA and AAF. However, since the development of the interstate highway system after WWII, the federal government passed several laws restricting outdoor advertising, along with many local statutes dictating the placement of signs.
- The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958 represented the first federal attempt to regulate the zoning and placement for billboards along the nation’s highways.
- The Building Control Act defines and restricts how advertisers can market their products on existing residential or industrial structures.
- The official position of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) supports self-regulation of the outdoor advertising industry, but government studies conducted in 2007-08 have shown a failure to comply with existing statutes that restrict where ads can be placed.
- The History of Outdoor Advertising Regulation in the United States by Charles R. Taylor and Weih Chang of Villanova University tracks regulation laws and trends in the field from the Civil War onward.
- “Clustering of unhealthy outdoor advertisements around child-serving institutions” is a study by the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania comparing advertising patterns in three American cities.
- Private-Public Partnerships for Enforcing Outdoor Advertising Regulations examines modern options for enforcing the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 in Texas.
- For an international perspective on outdoor advertising, this Business Week article examines the effects of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s “Clean City” law that restricts outdoor advertising of any kind within the city limits.
Outdoor Advertising Today
Longer commute times and an increase in miles driven present an opportunity for outdoor marketers. While Americans spend 27% of their time out of the home, spending on outdoor advertisements comprises a mere 4.4% of advertising spending, according to data from Universal McCann and the Nielson Media Research Survey. The National Household Travel Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau in 2009, further establishes that US consumers are spending more and more time on the road.
- According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, in 2010 advertisers spent $6.1 billion on outdoor advertising. This is down from the peak expenditure of $7.3 billion in 2007.
- Best Outdoor of the Week reviews the best in outdoor advertising and contains an archive of especially effective outdoor marketing efforts.
In the Internet age, how can one of the oldest advertising methods stay current?
- And The Last Shall Be First explores how outdoor marketing professionals are using to advanced metrics and other methods to measure the effectiveness of their advertisements.
- Advertising Effectiveness details how the advertising industry as a whole needs to find ways to get reliable feedback from marketing efforts. The author, Jerry W. Thomas, claims the field has the poorest quality-assurance system in the world.
- 50 Awesomely Elaborate Billboards demonstrates that thinking outside of the lines can give marketers a big advantage in crafting memorable advertisements.
- Coca-Cola’s Green Billboard Made of Plants That Absorb Air Pollution covers another way that advertising can stay on the cutting edge of technology and still market its product.
Since 1996, the Federal Highway Administration has allowed digital billboard advertising as long as state and local governments permit their installation. Recently, LED-based screens have replaced outmoded digital displays, allowing the billboards to cycle through many advertisements over the course of the day. Ads flash for only a few seconds, so many products can be featured from the same site.
- Advertising Trends: Digital Billboards discusses the growth possibilities of outdoor advertisements with the coming of LCD display screens.
- Federal Highway Administration research reviews the potential safety effects of electronic billboards on driver attention and distraction.
- The OAAAA gives a solid overview of digital billboards today.
- Digital billboards open new avenues for small advertisers details how smaller business are using their advertising dollars wisely.
Marketers are developing new tools to encourage consumer interaction with their advertisements. These include features such as Quick Response (QR) codes and other two-dimensional bar codes that can be read by a smart phone. These codes can be embedded inside print and billboard advertising to provide an interactive experience for consumers. It’s one more way that advertisers are continuing to innovate in the field of outdoor marketing.
- Mobile Marketer discusses how the retail giant Target draws in customers by embedding QR codes inside its advertisements.
- Business Insider writes that advertisers are already retiring the QR code, with Google leading the way. These outmoded bar codes will be replaced by the faster Near-Field Communication (NFC) code.
- Advertising vehicles, which include public transportation vehicles bearing banner advertisements and private cars with vinyl ads plastered on the side, are another avenue for marketers to get the attention of consumers outside of their homes.
*images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons