Thursday, December 5, 2013

Digital Technology Breathes A Whole New Life Into Billboard Advertising

Image credit: Lomography

Billboards - the pop-up ads of the highway. Many people don't seem to enjoy what they add to the skyline. They're often not pretty, they're huge, and they're ubiquitous. People can't get away from them. They can ignore them. But, they still see them. That's what marketers like about billboards. Repetition results in familiarity. We know this. And, put the right ad on the right billboard for one-time passersby (a gas station or restaurant ad along with upcoming exit number), and it's easy for them to act.

But while they can (and often do) work for businesses, billboards offer low-engagement, one-way communication, and effectiveness is difficult to measure. Digital technology is really starting to turn this on it's head though, bringing in a whole new set of possibilities for marketers. Digital billboards in some form have been around for a long time (see the talking billboard from the 1991 movie L.A. Story above). They give you the time, the temperature, traffic updates, and even relationship advice in boring yellow on black projection.
Image credit: SCPR
But, marketers have been getting more creative with digital billboards little by little. Baseball teams, for instance, have used their ad space along the road to deliver daily game information (I don't have a photo of my Cincinnati Reds sign, so we'll stick with Los Angeles, I guess). Before the game starts this one has a countdown. The Reds (as I'm sure others have) offer up the name of the pitcher for that day. As soon as the game ends with a win from the home team, the projection changes to large text that exclaims "Reds Win!". It's simple, but engaging. It grabs the driver's attention and gets them to think about the game.

Judging by their patent filingsGoogle is also interested in the power of billboards. They want to create an AdWords type of system, where data (and bids) will cause the most relevant ad to display in real-time. The implications here are exciting to think about.

Still, other brands are coming up with ingenious ways to use digital technology in their mass marketing on billboards. I'll leave you with this one from British Airlines that won the Internet a week or so ago. It wows the viewer with technology unseen before, provides information about the product and service, and ends with a great marketing message that becomes clear and powerful if you watch a few planes go by above it (and how could you not?).


Now that you have this as inspiration, how might you go about improving your billboard advertising to create something truly eye-catching?