Billboards are a highly effective advertising strategy. In the United States alone, advertisers spend 5.5 billion US dollars (USD) per year on this method of communication — adding between 5,000 and 15,000 new billboards in the process.
When placed along highways, interstates, and busy downtown streets, billboards use witty slogans and eye-catching images to attract the attention of drivers. Since a billboard only has a few seconds to make an impact, designing advertisements for this type of media is a tricky task. It can often take months for a company to create a billboard advertisement.
Billboards are used throughout the world, but this form of advertising first became popular in the United States during the 1920s. From 1925 to 1963, Burma-Shave was one of the most prominent billboard advertisers. This company attracted a great deal of attention by posting catchy jingles stretched across four or five different billboards. The promise of a punch line on the final billboard was a source of entertainment for drivers and the company often held contests encouraging customers to submit their own Burma-Shave jingles.
Today, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America reports that McDonald's, Anheuser-Busch, and Miller are the top billboard advertisers in the United States. While billboards were once commonly used to advertise tobacco products, this practice was outlawed in 1997. However, billboard advertising is still used by political candidates, governmental agencies, and community non-profit groups.
Although billboard advertising is a relatively simple concept, there have been a number of technological advancements in the process as the years have passed. For example, some designers will create advertisements that feature a portion of the image hanging off the billboard edge. Some newer billboards use a technology called tri-action movement to create a billboard with three separate parts, resulting in three billboards in one. There are also digital billboards which are computerized to rotate a series of still advertisements. Some companies are even experimenting with the use of interactive and holographic billboards.
While billboards are extremely popular among advertisers, this method of advertising has attracted its fair share of criticism. For example, many environmental groups dislike billboards because they believe advertising promotes a consumer-oriented culture while intruding on the natural landscape. Some organizations have complained that an excess of unattractive billboards can hurt tourism efforts in larger metropolitan areas. There have also been studies to suggest that billboards create driver distractions that can lead to dangerous traffic accidents. In response to these complaints, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, and Maine have passed laws limiting the use of billboard advertising.