In the United States of America, every citizen, on average, will encounter over one million advertisements every year (Godin, 1999). This means that the average American is seeing or hearing an advertisement every three seconds, every year. It would appear that this rate has been quickly increasing over the past two decades. Since 1993, the amount of revenue from outdoor advertising was $2.8 billion. This figure has nearly tripled in the last seventeen years (Outdoor Advertising Association of America [OAAA], 2010). This rapid increase has occurred in spite of a ban on cigarette advertisements and a decrease in advertisements for alcoholic beverages. To further show its prominence, outdoor advertising is the fifth largest advertising medium in the world (Zenith Optimedia, 2005). Outdoor advertising can cover a myriad of categories, so I will be specifically discussing billboards, as they are the most common and most used form of outdoor advertisements in the United States.
At face value, the investment in at least one billboard for a business makes logical sense. According to Kelley and Jugenheimer (2004), Taylor (1997), and Woodside (1990), there are eight key benefits in using billboard advertising: (1) potential placement of the advertisement close to the point of sale, (2) high exposure to regular commuters, (3) high reach, (4) 24-hour presence, (5) geographic flexibility, (6) economic efficiency, (7) visual impact from advertisement size and message creativity, and (8) brand awareness. From these benefits, it is no wonder so many businesses do not question the value in a billboard or multiple billboards. However, with this much money and effort put into billboards, the question must be asked, are billboards actually effective as an advertising medium? Yes, advertisements are popular, can get the attention of a consumer, and be easily noticed, but none of that matters if billboards are not effective in achieving the goal of a company in using a billboard. With the popularity and wide use of billboards and outdoor advertisements, it is shocking how little research has been done in this area. In light of the increase in revenues from outdoor advertising in the last 20 years, very little to no extensive research has been done. In fact, it is still “one of the least researched in any mass medium” (Katz, 2003, p. 92). Is it wrong for companies to assume that a billboard will be effective and successful if invested in? Or is it a correct assumption that if a billboard meets certain practical criteria to appeal to a customer that it will bear positive results for a business or company?
In regards to the effectiveness of a billboard, there are essentially four broad categories that are at play: tangible response, local presence, visibility and media efficiency (Taylor, Franke, & Hae-Kyong, 2006). Tangible response is how good the billboard is at bringing in customers, both returning and new, to increase traffic, and to build sales. Local presence is the proximity in which a billboard is to the place of business. From other research, it has been discovered that there is a very close link between a billboards ability to bring in customers, and its distance from the business location (Taylor & Franke, 2003). Visibility is the ability of a billboard to make a visual impression on the consumer. Lastly, media efficiency is the broad and frequent exposure to the target market. Taylor et al., (2006) summarized the importance of these four factors by stating, “for a billboard to be effective, it must communicate a relevant message in a clear, interesting, and readable manner to the appropriate audience. It must also be at an appropriate location in order to be seen by the target audience” (p. 24).
An original study was conducted by Taylor et al. (2006) to find out which of these factors businesses viewed as most important, and how successful billboards had been so far for those businesses. Some aspects of a billboard’s...
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