Down with Digital

Time Square, New York, at night, elevated view. . .billboards, that is. They dominate Times Square and distract drivers across the U.S. There’s no denying that these brightly lit, monster-size ads are hard to miss. But are they effective?

Personally, I’m just not a fan. Perhaps it’s my natural aversion to anything bold and glitzy. Or that I’m a fan of content that you can consume on your own time and terms, i.e. not just when in Times Square or driving down the interstate.

The cause of my digital distaste aside, I wonder if digital billboards are really worth the space. Is it worth thousands of dollars to attempt to snag drivers’ attention as they zip by at speeds in excess of 65mph?

I became increasingly suspicious of digital billboards’ value when I was sitting in traffic last week. After 5 minutes of staring at the same billboard, I couldn’t decipher the contact information. If one can’t decode the contact information in stopped traffic, how are they supposed to catch the info when traffic is moving along? If the purpose of advertising, in any form, is to generate business, then it would seem the phone number and email address should be legible from the audience’s vantage point – the highway.

The call to action is equally important. To that end, let’s examine the ‘follow us on Twitter’ phenomenon.  A fast food chain recently commandeered some prime digital real estate on the side of I-84 in Hartford, Conn. The billboard, in larger-than-life font, read: Follow us on Twitter. While I give credit to the company for making the call to action legible from the roadside vantage-point, who is going to pull-off to the side of the interstate to follow them on Twitter? Does this call to action stay on people’s radar long enough to be acted-upon when they arrive at their office?

In an age of digital dominance, I realize that traditional advertising methods aren’t going to reach the entire target audience. Yet, I wonder if these dollars would be better spent on text message marketing. Why not target the people who are near your restaurant instead of the people who are driving in the opposite direction of your restaurant?

That said, I wonder if digital billboards are here to stay. Will companies adopt mobile marketing to reach on-the-go consumers and find more effective ways to allocate the thousands of dollars per month that they currently invest in digital billboards?

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