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The benefits of messaging on LED billboards
I find it more than a little ironic that over the years, the digital signage and DOOH industries have spent countless hours and huge sums of money talking about the best way to advertise, the best way to inform and the best way to get noticed, yet we almost never talk about these things in one of the best possible contexts -- where we have hard data about what works and 50+ years of compiled data on best practices. I'm talking, of course, about the great outdoors. In that environment, large-format displays like LED billboards inherit the mantel of traditional out-of-home advertising, and routinely generate more money per screen than some whole networks of indoor digital signs ever will. While I know a lot of folks think those big, roadside displays have nothing at all to do with their business, I think many could benefit from learning a bit about the business models and content practices that make them tick.
The benefits of out-of-home messaging on LED billboards
Obviously, the main benefit of outdoor advertising is the sheer size of the potential audience. The large LED billboard on the stretch of I-95 near my home probably catches the attention of several hundred thousand people each day. The much smaller display near our city hall probably sees several thousand. In contrast, aside from our local supermarket, most of the stores in my town would be lucky to see 50 patrons a day, making them poor venues for advertising upcoming events and important notices.

Additionally, there are a wealth of resources to help the display's manager create impactful messages. While outdoor displays may have large audiences, they are typically fleeting. Thus, brevity is paramount (meaning I'd be terrible at it), and things like screen contrast and color choice are critical. A lot of our content best practices for digital signage actually originated from best practices for billboard advertising, and were tweaked as we learned what special tricks digital displays could do.
Finally, if you're in the advertising biz and not just trying to show public service messages, the typical business model for outdoor LED billboards reinforces our survey finding that advertisers really like reach-based pricing models, such as CPM. While I'm sure there are some digital billboards out there that aren't profitable, many, many are. In fact, I've heard from a number of billboard owners who replaced some static displays with digital screens and saw revenues multiply. In one memorable case, the owner was charging around $2,000/month for a static billboard, but was able to charge that same $2,000/month seven times to the seven advertisers whose content rotated on the screen. I don't know if that's a typical result, but where the indoor digital signage market seems to be comprised of a few successes mired in a sea of failures, in the digital billboard market, it seems to be quite the opposite. Granted, the digital billboard market is also home to some deep-pocketed network owners, but I still think the point is a fair one.
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