What’s changed since I wrote this article on digital billboards two years ago?
Advertising Trends: Digital Billboards
Turns out, not much.
Digital billboard technology created quite a stir when it first arrived on the scene, but it’s still a minor player in the outdoor advertising industry. The reason: local governments. Outdoor companies like Lamar Outdoor Advertising can’t just build a digital billboard wherever they want. Most local municipalities have zoning laws that prevent new boards from being constructed. In many towns you must take down a billboard before you can build a new one. In some towns, you must take down two billboards before you build a new one.
That means the proliferation of new digital billboards will be slow, very slow. For the foreseeable future, there will be many more traditional billboards than digital ones. And if you have a choice, which do you choose?
Should You Choose Digital Billboards?
I met with my local Lamar rep last week and he freely admits that novelty is part of the purchase decision. Advertisers like being on something new and different, and they perceive that customers notice digital boards because they are different. However, he says, just like traditional boards, location should be the primary reason for purchase. Don’t choose a digital board just because it’s digital, choose it because it’s the best location for your business.
Another primary reason for choosing a digital board is immediacy. Conceivably, you can sign a contract today and be up on a digital board tomorrow. With traditional boards it takes two weeks or more to get the artwork approved, get the vinyl printed and shipped, then have the vinyl installed on your board.
Digital boards are also great if you frequently change copy, such as the picture above for the LA Times. Advertisers can change copy weekly, even daily, with no vinyl production costs. Additionally you can schedule different ads to run on different days and ad different times during the day. Advertisers have access to a dashboard that lets them schedule and change copy once the artwork is approved.
Results are About The Copy
But the novelty of being on a digital billboard does not ensure a successful campaign. The biggest factor in the success of a campaign (as much as location) is the copy. My rep told me that outdoor advertising is no different than any other medium: You need a compelling message. He said the most common mistake is trying to put too much information on the board. Use the 7 second rule. Assume you will not get the reader’s attention for more than 7 seconds. Keep the artwork and message simple and compelling.
The best use (but not the only use) is brand building. Because outdoor advertising is a mass reach medium with high frequency, you can use billboards to build awareness and understanding of your brand over time. For more on creating compelling billboard copy, see The 10 Commandments of Outdoor Advertising.
Note: Thanks to my local Lamar Advertising rep Russ Nelson for the information in this article.