A new technology is giving advertisers unparalleled ability to change their messages at a moment’s notice. The same technology is making communities safer by helping catch fugitives and find lost children.
It’s providing valuable information to keep the public informed about issues important to them. And it’s all wrapped in a familiar, comforting package, as much a piece of the American driving experience as Route 66.
It is the digital billboard.
Digital technology’s marriage to billboards is providing myriad benefits to diverse groups of consumers. There are more than 800 digital billboards in the United States, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America expects that number to grow by several hundred over the next few years.
Digital billboards are updated electronically through a variety of methods. Some are networked together, most are operated remotely, and all of them can be updated quickly, sometimes with just the click of a mouse. This ability gives digital billboards flexibility and nimbleness.
This nimbleness gives local businesses a unique and powerful way to reach large numbers of geographically targeted consumers very quickly.
In Toledo, Ohio, the Toledo Blade newspaper has used digital billboards to display daily headlines and even to deliver breaking news. In other cities, television stations use the technology to advertise the stories airing on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news.
Real estate agents are using digital billboards to highlight specific houses. When the house sells, the copy changes the same afternoon, keeping the content fresh and the advertising effective for the client.
Clearly, digital billboards are changing the way businesses think about outdoor advertising and, consequently, how they structure their media plans.
Far Beyond Advertisers
Yet the advantages of digital billboards go far beyond advertisers.
In many cases, digital billboards are being used as powerful aids to public safety. Throughout the country, local police departments are entering into partnerships with outdoor advertising companies to post the pictures of people wanted by police.
In Mobile, Ala., one such partnership began with one person’s picture on a digital billboard; by Sunday morning, the man featured had turned himself in, convinced (by the billboard) that he wouldn’t be able to run.
The FBI is also taking advantage of the technology by entering into another partnership with an outdoor advertising company to display the pictures of its famous “Most Wanted List” in an attempt to bring dangerous fugitives and suspects to justice.
And perhaps most importantly, in several states outdoor advertising companies are using digital billboards to help communities in some of the direst times of need: when a child has been abducted.
Digital billboards linked to AMBER Alert systems can quickly and efficiently put the picture of a missing child, with a description of the vehicle he or she is believed to be traveling in, in front of drivers and the public in a matter of minutes. Across the country, digital billboards are helping reunite children with their families and get suspects arrested.
This new twist on the oldest mass medium is also being used to provide vital information to people when they need it. When the I-35W bridge collapsed in downtown Minneapolis, digital billboards were used to alert drivers of the catastrophe and to seek alternate routes.
And around the country during this election year, digital billboards have been used to provide real-time primary election results to drivers in states such as Iowa, Florida, Georgia and California.
As for the safety and effectiveness of this new technology, scientists agree digital billboards are “safety-neutral.”
Studies from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Tantala and Associates show digital billboards are not distracting to drivers and are not correlated with traffic accidents. Digital billboards adjust their light levels to correspond to ambient light conditions, making sure the message is never lost through a sign being too bright.
The public is responding favorably as digital billboards become more common around the United States. A recent Arbitron study on public perceptions of digital billboards found the majority of those surveyed believe digital billboards are attractive and useful. They appreciate the public service applications and many, especially younger people, found digital billboards to be “a cool way to advertise.”
Clearly, digital billboards represent a significant advancement in the technology of outdoor advertising and provide substantial benefits to advertisers and communities. As digital billboard networks expand in the coming years, OAAA expects them to continue to receive glowing reviews.
The OAAA is the trade association representing the outdoor advertising industry. It is dedicated to leading and uniting a responsible outdoor advertising industry that is committed to serving the needs of consumers, advertisers, and the public. The nearly 1,000 OAAA member companies generate more than $6.8 billion annually in ad revenues, represent more than 90 percent of industry income and donate space to charitable organizations in excess of $390 million each year. Learn more at www.oaaa.org.