Two interesting and contrasting stories about digital billboards have come out recently, and I thought it might be interesting to juxtapose them.
The first, is an article from MediaWeek's Digital Download blog which notes that, "clearing the way for out-of-home companies to build out more digital billboards, the Federal Highway Administration recently ruled that digital billboards are permissible and are not 'flashing' or 'intermittent.' The ruling recommended that digital boards display static images for four to 10 seconds, comparable to the industry practice of six to eight seconds. "
On the flip side we have this article from Advertising Age which reports that, "São Paulo made history by banning ads on billboards, neon signs and electronic panels, and now Rio de Janeiro is considering a similar measure." Additionally, "in the U.S., Vermont, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska all have long-standing policies forbidding outdoor ads, and legislators in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco have explored similar bans."
It's no surprise that some places -- particularly those with a rich heritage or famed beauty -- are hesitant to allow digital billboards. It's only natural for them to want to protect their beauty and heritage, and many already feel that there are enough traditional billboards and other forms of OOH advertising out there. But does that mean they plan to root themselves in the past as their neighbors and the world around them embrace a new technology that is sure to become commonplace?
Many people actually find digital billboards to be more attractive than conventional ones, and they are sure to gain in popularity over the next several years. Ironically, they may even help to condense the kind of outdoor advertising sprawl that these locations find so unattractive: Since they are able to display multiple ads in a given time, advertisers that normally would have spread their ads out through other outdoor means can now just share the same display as the competition.
The ruling from the Federal Highway Administration is obviously good for the industry and it will allow for further advancement of outdoor digital advertising and alerts. Whether or not cities across the country will take their decision to heart or decide to limit or even ban the ads is another issue entirely. One factor that may come into play when individual cities decide whether to embrace more or less of the digital billboards is whether or not they will be too distracting to drivers, or whether they should be used in more or less populous areas. The FHA may say that the signs aren't distracting enough to cause accidents, anecdotally that might not be true. Needless to say, while having ads that change every couple seconds is a good thing for advertisers (because people notice the ads more), it might also be a bad thing if they aren't paying enough attention to the road (because people notice the ads more).
Tags: electronic billboards, digital signage, out-of-home advertising