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Large Format Printing: Update on Billboard Advertising

I had always assumed that digital billboards were going to eclipse print advertising, from my first glimpse of the constantly changing signage on my trips to Ocean City. They were soon showing up in the malls my fiancee and I frequented when installing standees: large, high-resolution screens displaying make-up ads two stories high.

So I was surprised to learn recently that print billboards are not only going strong, but they are in fact a burgeoning industry, surpassing many other advertising venues.

On this subject, I recently read an article entitled “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” written by Allison Shirk and published in EDGE on 04/01/18. The article notes some interesting facts about both digital and print billboards, and about outdoor advertising in general.

Facts and Figures About Digital and Print Billboards

  1. Shirk’s article opens with a reference to digital billboards installed by Fairway Outdoor Advertising after Stephen Hawking’s recent death. They were able to set up ten billboards in honor of Hawking within a few hours. In contrast, print billboards need between 20 minutes and an hour for installation, and that’s after they have been inkjet printed. As Shirk’s article notes, digital billboards can be “changed with the click of a button.” And after installation (and programming with multiple advertisements), the billboards can be changed remotely as often as every ten seconds. (And that’s just because of the regulations ensuring that drivers aren’t distracted by even shorter ads.)
  2. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) data shows that outdoor billboard advertising revenue has increased steadily over the last nine years, from $5.9 billion in 2009 (across the country) to $7.6 billion in 2016. During this same time, advertising revenue for other media has decreased. In addition, the article references The Pew Research Center’s figures showing a $30 billion drop in newspaper advertising revenue from 2006 to 2014. Shirk’s article goes on to attribute this to consumers’ increasing dependence on their cell phones and social media for news, reviews, etc.
  3. Fairway Outdoor Advertising, the outdoor advertising agency noted in “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” has more than 17,000 print billboards and digital billboards distributed across the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest. It is the “nation’s largest privately held outdoor advertising company” (as per Shirk’s article). That said, according to the article, Fairway has more than 1,500 static (printed) billboards and 43 digital billboards. So outdoor print advertising isn’t going away in the near future.
  4. Determining whether to use a large format print billboard or a digital billboard involves the following considerations, according to Shirk’s article. Static, printed vinyl billboards are good for consistent, long-term display. In contrast, a digital billboard can display up to eight ads in less than two minutes. Certain kinds of advertising information will lend itself to print (perhaps reinforcing brand awareness); other advertising information would be more appropriate for digital display (perhaps a rotation of ads for a series of concerts). In addition, location, advertising duration, content, and cost are other determining factors.
  5. Digital billboards have some unique qualities that static print billboards cannot match. For instance, Shirk’s article references an ad for heating and air conditioning that can be automatically displayed when the temperature reaches a certain point.
  6. I was personally surprised at the pricing, assuming digital billboards would be much more expensive. According to the article, larger print billboards run from $250.00 to $1,200.00 each week, depending on their location, while digital billboards cost from $375.00 to $750.00 per week. Smaller billboards, called “posters,” are closer to $200.00 per week.
  7. There are regulations for the display of outdoor advertising, specifying placement, lighting, and size. The goal of the regulations is to avoid confusing or distracting drivers. For instance, digital images must remain in place for at least 10 seconds.
  8. In terms of manufacturing and installation costs, digital advertising is economical, since it eliminates the cost of the vinyl print substrate and the time and expense of installation (20 minutes to one hour, as noted before).
  9. Fairway Outdoor Advertising does a good business with other media. Shirk’s article includes a quote from Fairway, noting that “all the other media are our clients—television, radio, even print.” In addition, Fairway combines advertising on billboards, computer screens, and mobile phones, providing an integrated presentation across multiple media.

What This Means For Print (Specifically) and Advertising in General

  1. Starting with Fairway’s multi-channel advertising approach noted above, repetition makes ads more effective. Each time you see an ad, the brand makes an impression on you. Therefore, integrating print ads and digital ads is prudent. In fact, adding vehicle wraps, television ads, radio spots, or anything else (including special events) to your advertising mix is wise. It is clear that outdoor large format print advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with the improvements in large format inkjet printing, outdoor print advertising should expand even more.
  2. If anyone else was under the impression that, due to their complexity, digital billboards are more expensive than print, it’s good to see the data. If you can afford print billboards, you can afford digital billboards. So the question becomes which will be more effective for a given advertising subject and goal.
  3. Certain attributes of print and digital small format printing can make one a better choice than the other. (For a print book, for example, you can produce tactile effects with cover coatings, but a digital book provides no such tactile experience.) In a similar vein, certain design goals will favor either print billboard or digital billboard design. If weather temperature can trigger a digital heating and air conditioning ad, for instance, perhaps there are (or will soon be) other relevant triggers. For example, around lunch time or dinnertime, digital restaurant ads might be programmed to play on billboards across the Interstate highways.
  4. The advertising survey information from The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is sobering in that ad revenue has been declining for all other media (including newspapers). I guess it is not surprising. That said, this data highlights a potentially lucrative market for outdoor signage in many forms. And this means large format printing will continue to be a vibrant opportunity for marketers, printers, and graphic artists. Print seems not to be dying out but just reorganizing itself around other venues (such as large format printing, packaging, and the like).
  5. Shirk’s article presents some interesting observations about the attention span of consumers and their ability to process information. For instance, if static advertising is more effective in establishing brand awareness than ever-changing digital advertising, and if transmitting a large volume of information (such as a list of upcoming bands for a musical event) lends itself more to digital signage, this awareness of consumer needs and behavior can be priceless for advertisers.

So the bottom line is that large format print advertising is a growth industry, and digital advertising is just one more tool in the advertiser’s arsenal, to be applied at the most appropriate time and place.

4 Responses to “Large Format Printing: Update on Billboard Advertising”

  1. The digital printing advertising industry increasing day by day. The increase in the trend of digital marketing has led us the way to appear in multiple platform

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