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Glenda LeGendre: Good and bad digital billboard ads

Glenda LeGendre[1] copyWhile driving down the Jones Falls Expressway recently, I noted an increase in digital billboards and diminishing numbers of the older static type that was long the standard. But many of the ads on these new signs were just not readable in the six- to eight-second interval that the format offers. Additionally, since the venue is shared among six to eight advertisers, it is critical for your message to stand out in the mix. A bad digital sign is not only a waste of money, but actually can have a negative impact on your brand.

So what are the keys to designing a good digital board?

Less is definitely more. Just side for simplicity and say little well, while assuring brand prominence. Viewers can neither read lengthy copy nor remember it. Importantly, many of the JFX signs lacked the essential advertiser’s mantra: a call to action. So include a web address, contact person, or even the date of an offer.

There is no excuse for a bad digital sign. The format is in HTML and can offer dynamic content and imagery pulled right from client or agency sources. Thanks to the digital format, the ads can be tested easily on an actual board placement in advance of running, although the outdoor advertising firms don’t openly promote this possibility. Ask so that you can adjust fonts and colors once the real issues emerge.

In this medium, small advertisers can have as much success as the national ones.

Digital highway signs appeared in Maryland later than in other parts of the country. And the United States was behind both Europe and Asia in offering the digital variety of signs. But Maryland has caught up quickly as the switch from static signs enabled advertisers to save the time and production expense of design and installation for the spots.

Surprisingly, there was not a big cost-savings initially to use digital signage because of limited space availability and strong results from accepted software measurements of frequency and reach. That helped vendors drive up their pricing structure. With some recent competition emerging for the sign vendors, pricing may finally be easing.

Another potential savings is that while the static billboards were generally sold by the month, the digital signs can be sold by the week. One of their main advantages, beyond ease of production, is flexibility.  These signs can be modified weekly, daily, or even hourly.  They have been used to promote the daily increase in lottery drawings, and weekly grocery deals.

What are the trends in the digital sign industry? The new Los Angeles Staples Center now looks like Times Square West. The Washington, D.C.-based trade association, the nonprofit Outdoor Advertising Association of America, now offers a free creative testing tool (www.oaaa.org) to check how the digital ads would appear on tablets and mobile sources as well.

There is also a national regulatory trend to evaluate lighting standards for the signs that assure legibility but prevent glare and adjust the light through sensors to save energy. The Federal Highway Administration in 2014 put to rest the notion that there is a negative impact to drivers’ attention from the ads.

Arbitron data reports that nine out of 10 people notice the contents of highway signage, so billboards are here to stay to help businesses and organizations as part of their effective advertising plans.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net.