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Digital billboards offering high-tech outdoor ad option

Outdoor advertising companies don’t have to worry about someone falling off a scaffold while painting a billboard anymore. That is because the technology of billboards has changed greatly since the days when painters stood perched high above the highway painting signs by hand. Today, vinyl billboards are printed out in a shop before being installed.

Billboards aren’t for all advertisers.

“If you have a long message, it may not be for you,” said Marty Elrod, vice president and general manager, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Jackson. “But if you are trying to promote a sale or event, a restaurant, hotel or tourism, then I think we are very effective. Our billboards advertise a product, promote name awareness, and are image builders.”

Elrod says no company should “put all their eggs in one basket” regarding advertising. Other media like radio, TV or newspapers can be best for some kinds of messages.

“It really just depends on what you are doing,” he said.

Digital billboards, which are flat screen LEDs similar to television screens, are the new wave in the industry and one that makes billboards a good choice for more different kinds of businesses.

“Advertisers can change their message within an hour instead of taking a week or two weeks,” said Elrod, whose company currently has approximately 400 digital billboards installed in larger cities across the U.S. “It is great for the advertiser. It is also great for the community. We can put AMBER Alerts on them. We donate space to America’s Most Wanted. The signs have helped catch nine murderers, two rapists and one child molester.”

Digital billboards are more eye-catching and attractive.

“In our opinion, it is a better looking billboard,” Elrod said. “You can have multiple messages. We average six clients on each digital billboard. Each client gets one rotation a minute. We can put 20 different messages up there. For example, a restaurant can advertise specials for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pepsi could advertise 15 different products. Malls are sophisticated, and know the best time to reach men for certain sales and women for other sales.”

Another advantage of the digital billboard is messages are changed in the office. There are also no worries about the vinyl sign falling off the board if weather is bad.

‘On the upswing’

Digital billboards are much more expensive compared to traditional billboards. But experts in the outdoor advertising industry believe the price will come down in a few years as more vendors get into digital.

The new electronic billboards are a major factor behind significant growth in outdoor advertising, says Kim Moss, executive vice president media and research, GodwinGroup, Jackson.

“Unlike a lot of traditional media that has seen declines or just stayed flat in terms of advertising revenue over the past several years, the outdoor or out-of-home media is experiencing great growth,” Moss said. “It is actually second to the Internet in advertising growth. In terms of growth and focus versus traditional media, it is really on the upswing due largely to electronic billboards being introduced across the country.”

While more expensive than traditional billboard advertising, the digital billboards open up other markets. Moss said now billboards make sense for things that are seasonable like special sales in the retail industry.

Vinyl billboards still make sense for advertisers who want a broad reach. Moss said some of these become almost landmarks because they are part of the landscape for so long. But while vinyl billboards have the same message for six months to a year, digital messages can be changed with a few clicks on a computer keyboard.

“It opens up advertisers for messages that are more specials driven such as offers from car dealers and department stores,” Moss said. “Even TV stations can advertise different programming every day to promote their shows. Before, banks that wanted to advertise their rates for home equity loans or mortgages couldn’t have used outdoor. Now they can.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is billboard messages must be short, simple and eye catching.

“The old adage is that you need to say what needs to said in 10 words or less,” Moss said. “That still needs to remain the case. It must be simple with good visuals and good text to catch someone’s attention.”

Creative challenge

Creating the most concise message that will yield the greatest impact can be a challenge when it comes to outdoor advertising.

“An example of a great ad was Mossy Oak’s billboard on Highway 59 on the way to their retail store in Foley, Ala.,” said Cindy Hodo, a partner with Quest Group in West Point. “It read ‘Reduced Visibility Ahead’ and featured a hunter in Mossy Oak camo hidden in a wooded setting. The twist on a typical traffic warning message was a clever way to promote the Mossy Oak brand store and product. We thought it was so clever, we hired the guy who came up with the idea, and he is now Quest Group’s creative director.”

One reason for the increasing popularity of outdoor advertising is that it can be the best choice to reach a target audience.

“I feel with all the different media that are available, people are trying to do something that doesn’t have as much competition to it,” said Donna Owen, president, Brainstorm Creative Group, Meridian. “There are so many publications, so many options on TV. Which shows are people going to watch? Quite often you miss your audience. My clients are feeling that billboards are the answer to that. Billboards are just an answer in many, many cases.”

A few simple words…

Regarding messaging, often the issue is convincing clients that they don’t have to say a lot.

“Copywriters really earn their keep on billboard,” said Owen, whose company does billboards for companies across the U.S. “Having a good copywriter for a billboard is critical. Sometimes just one strong image says it. A big problem, of course, is people trying to put too much on there.

“Another thing is you really need to pay attention to your traffic flow based on your audience. And if you are buying a billboard possibly rotating or changing locations, you need to pay attention to what else is going on around there like construction in the area. I’ve had billboards put up and then traffic is rerouted, or construction is going on for several weeks. People are often not paying as much attention if they are distracted by new construction, and there is a lot of that going on.”

One trend Owen is seeing is more corporate branding and product introduction on billboards. Brainstorm Creative Group, which celebrates its 25th year in business this year, is doing a lot more image boards than in the past few years.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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