By Janet Preus
Digital billboards—those brightly lit, often enormous signs that scroll through multiple messages—are hard to ignore, both on the highway and from an industry standpoint.
What does the proliferation mean to the fabric signage business? There isn’t a vinyl billboard that can light up like a glowing LED screen. The owner of the advertising space doesn’t have to settle for one contract, the space can be sold multiple times and the content changed with ease. The signs can use animation and allow for interactivity with their intended audience.
There is a catch. Digital billboards are expensive, and most governing entities require removing a certain number of traditional billboards for every digital billboard put up. Some cities have banned them because they are distracting and therefore dangerous for drivers.
But the digital vs. fabric billboard and signage choice is not an either-or proposition. Journalist and consultant Louis M. Brill says in an article on www.signindustry.com that billboard “hybrids” are taking the best of both and combining them, offering a more economical alternative.
“Combined billboards include the staying power of print in reinforcing a message with certain content that is always in place, and is followed by its EMC [electronic message center] component, which can highlight the main ad tag with updated electronic copy to make the message more personal and time specific,” Brill says. “Another benefit is the expense, as leasing time on an EMC is much less expensive than an advertisement on a full-color, electronic billboard.”
Paul Miller of Let’s Get Graphic in Mounds View, Minn., says competition from LED signage is “not much of an issue yet,” but as cities become more friendly to LED boards, he expects to see a reduction in the use of vinyl. “Versatility is the reason,” he says. “You can promote as many advertisers as you want, instead of one on a vinyl billboard. Over the next five to six years you’re probably going to see a huge impact.”
Brill says that most outdoor media companies are adding electronic billboards, but they’re not replacing existing print billboard setups entirely. For now, at least, digital is viewed more as a complement to print, each having certain strengths that reinforce each other’s advertising potential.
Given the cost differential—Miller estimates the up-front cost of LED is probably six to eight times higher than vinyl—it seems likely that traditional billboards and other fabric signage will continue to be the material of choice for many advertisers.