Digital billboards are a rapidly growing part of the commercial media arsenal, popping up along roads all across the country.
Corporate marketers and even local law enforcement are already utilizing them in earnest, but “politicians seem to be learning at a slower pace,” says Tim Fuhriman, senior vice president of digital advertising at Clear Channel, which owns a sizable chunk of the digital billboard real estate.
The reluctance of the campaign world to embrace the technology is something outdoor advertising executives are actively working to change ahead of the 2012 election cycle.
Fuhriman’s pitch—digital billboard technology is quickly becoming cheaper, more accessible and it offers real opportunity for campaigns that are willing to integrate it into their digital strategy. Television creative translates to the digital billboard format; not true of its static forerunner. And much like online advertising, messages can be tweaked quickly to take advantage of specific moments in the news cycle.
“We can put it up in hours, no longer weeks and months,” he says of a digital billboard message. “And after it’s up, it’s just a simple keystroke to change the message.”
The typical sign changes every eight seconds and has several messages running like a carousel. Conceivably, a campaign could buy all of the segments, using each changeover to highlight a specific issue position or message. The messages are distributed over a network of signs so there’s geo-targeting potential, as well.
“We have clients who will buy multiple spots and rotate their art,” said Fuhriman. “There’s no limit on creative, we just rotate through.”
Among the possibilities for campaigns moving forward—using wireless technology to advertise directly to drivers passing specific digital billboards or alerting supporters of nearby volunteer opportunities.
While political media pros don’t dismiss the utility of the digital billboard outright, Fuhriman and his colleagues have some serious convincing to do. Given the plethora of inexpensive and highly targeted digital advertising options now available to campaigns, the natural question is what billboard advertising offers that other forms of digital outreach don’t.
“Digital or not, billboards are still a blunt instrument in today’s very targeted world of campaigning,” says Ben Nuckels, vice president at Joe Slade White & Company, a Democratic media firm. For Nuckels, it’s hard to see what a digital billboard can do for your campaign that a TV ad or a targeted online message couldn’t do better.
“There may be some geographic applications for GOTV purposes or novelty use,” says Nuckels. “But the fact remains that there are far more effective and efficient ways to reach voters.”