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It was written off as a dead industry, particularly with the demise of tobacco advertising. It has been called a blight on the American landscape. It even earned the nickname “pollution on a stick.” But things have changed with outdoor advertising and we’re not talking about your father’s billboards.

Today, the outdoor billboard industry includes not just the small 8-sheet poster along your local rural road; it includes mammoth signs that tower above the tens of thousands of people who pass through Times Square each day. It includes rolling advertisements on the sides of trucks and buses. It includes a plethora of signage at speedways, Outdoor – A New Medium For New Audiences and in sports stadiums. And it includes “outdoor furniture” signage comprised of bus shelters, benches and just about anyplace else where people congregate.

A Mobile Society

Contemporary social trends favor billboards. Americans are spending fewer hours at home, where TV, cable, magazines, newspapers, books, and the Internet all clamor for attention. People are spending more time than ever in their cars – daily vehicle trips are up 110% since 1970, and the number of cars on the road is up by 147%. For most people stuck in traffic, the only media options are radio and billboards.

Anyone who is old enough to remember the old Burma Shave signs along the highway knows that outdoor billboards can be very engaging and today’s outdoor billboard industry contributes millions of dollars of space to various public service causes.

The new computer-painting technology used by the industry is making outdoor billboards brighter, more exciting, and upbeat. Their messages are typically more clever, humorous and artistic – there’s even a significant awards programs called the “Obie” to recognize outstanding outdoor creative, including a category for PSAs.

Outdoor Goes Green

This New Year’s Eve revelers at Times Square will have a close-up view of the country’s first environmentally friendly billboard. Powered entirely by wind and sun – 16 wind turbines and 64 solar panels – the sign is expected to save $12,000 to $15,000 per month in electricity costs. Multiply this by all the other cities in the country using electrical power for outdoor illumination, and it amounts to a signficant cost savings and eco-friendly outdoor.

The Morphing of Outdoor

“Outdoor used to be known as the beer, butts, and babes medium,” says Andrea MacDonald, president of MacDonald Media, a New York agency that specializes in out-of-home advertising. Now, she says, “everything’s changed. New technology has made us more creative, and advertisers are seeing billboards in a new light.”

“We’ve had requests for moving, smoking and smelling boards,” says Pat Punch, who is a co-owner of Minneapolis-based Atomic Props, a company that specializes in unique spectaculars. For Poland Springs, Atomic Props created a 30 foot water bottle and an outdoor poster for Jell-O in Times Square serves up a giant spoon with 4,000 smaller spoons.

In Minneapolis, home base for Target, people look forward to a new three dimensional billboard object every month, such as Old Faithful, complete with spray every 10 minĀ­utes, which symbolizes Target’s donation to the nation’s parks. Minneapolis retailer Dayton-Hudson once had three dimensional boxes of candy that emanated a mint scent. Says Punch: “Over the last 10 years, our business has tripled as people see the possibilities.”

 

PSA Communications Advantages

Outdoor is perhaps the most overlooked medium of all when it comes to launching PSA campaigns. Admittedly, the cost of printing billboard paper can be expensive, but given the typical results we have experienced for clients, we believe that outdoor provides excellent exposure opportunities.

When used to inform the public about public causes, outdoor billboards provide many different communications advantages, and the total universe of outdoor opportunities is almost unlimited, as shown by the following table provided by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

First, outdoor is typically available even in towns that are too small to have a radio station or a local newspaper.

Second, billboards can provide communications reach right down to the neighborhood level. This may be useful if your campaign is concentrating on inner city residents or high school students and you can convince the outdoor billboard company to post your PSA messages nearby.

 

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