All grown up: The evolution of digital billboards
Safety concerns about the screens have largely died down in recent years
June 21, 2016
When digital billboards first rolled out, they came with plenty of controversy.
Some worried that their great appeal to advertisers–the ability to rotate ad messages–would distract drivers, causing accidents.
Others complained they’d further contribute to scenic blight.
They were even banned in a handful of states and cities.
That initial criticism of digital billboards has largely died down over the past few years, and the digital billboard industry is now in growth mode. There are twice as many boards in the U.S. now as there were just four years ago.
Digital billboards offer advantages over traditional static billboards for advertisers, and chief among them is the ability to change ad copy quickly and remotely via the web.
Advertisers can also post live weather data and run ads with live comments from social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
Digital billboards are also brighter, making them more noticeable, which proponents say translates to better sales.
But there are potential disadvantages as well. One is that digital boards run a loop of ads from a number of different advertisers, meaning advertisers don’t get the exclusivity they do with a traditional static board.
Here is an update on the digital billboard landscape in the U.S., including where they’re illegal and tips on making a buy.
Number of digital billboards
There are 6,400 digital billboards in the U.S., according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. That’s up 60 percent from 4,000 digital boards in the first quarter of 2013, and double the 3,200 there were at the beginning of 2012.
Digital billboard bans
There are statewide bans on digital billboards in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana and Vermont.
Where they’re located
The majority of digital billboards are alongside highways, through there are some in other high-traffic city street locations. Some markets have digital boards in locations where pedestrian traffic is heavy–think Times Square in New York or downtown Los Angeles.
Digital billboards are generally the same size as traditional static billboards, the most common being 14 feet tall and 48 feet wide.
Making the buy
Because ad copy can be swapped so easily, digital billboards give buyers more flexibility than traditional static boards. For example, while static boards are typically bought in four-week increments, digital inventory is sold in daily, weekly, bi-weekly and four-week flights.
Pricing varies widely based on location and the length of campaign. A general ballpark range is between $2,000 and $15,000 for a four-week campaign, but high-demand signs can cost well above that.
The ability to change ad copy throughout a campaign is typically included in the price.
Digital billboard studies
There have been a number of studies conducted worldwide about the safety of digital boards, including a summarized compendium put together by Veridian Group.
What they’re saying
“For advertisers, the possibilities are endless when they have the ability to utilize dynamic content on digital units. With the ability to stream live data or user-generated content from social media sites, creative messaging can stay relevant, targeted and impactful.” — Tom Pirog, director of media at Billups
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