For decades, the gurus of digital advertising have boldly proclaimed that traditional advertising is dead. That buying TV, radio, or newspaper ads is old-fashioned and a waste of money. Granted, there is some truth to that. However, if traditional advertising died, someone forgot to tell the billboard industry.
Last year the billboard industry — as a part of “outdoor advertising,” which includes billboards, bus ads, and ads at venues like sports stadiums — saw its total market share grow by 3.1%. This made it the only non-digital advertising medium to show any growth. The total value of outdoor advertising for 2018? A massive 13.7 trillion naira (US$38 billion).
In fact, companies now spend more on billboards than on television (on which they spend 1.8%) and radio (1.2%) combined. But how can a legacy form of advertising whose origins date back to ancient Egypt be in its prime in the middle of the digital era?
Since the 1830s, billboards have featured prominently along highways and on buildings all across the world. Simple yet hard to ignore, billboards are a form of “out-of-home” advertising — ads that target people when they’re in public places.
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On more than one occasion, billboards have become so conspicuous that local authorities have passed regulations to limit their number and location. Yet despite tightening regulations and increasing digital competition, the industry has absorbed the lessons and come up with new ways to communicate with consumers.
Now you can find billboards in the least-expected locations: outside your gym, next to your office’s vending machine, or in your parking lot. Billboards have traded size for reach, earning millions of impressions from an audience willing to be entertained while they’re commuting to work, or shopping, or dining with friends.
Unlike Internet or TV ads, which pop up when you least want to see them, billboards are unobtrusive and don’t generate the same level of hostility among people. A study showed that 68% of us regularly look at billboards, while 37% read nearly all of them. Good luck finding those levels of engagement with digital advertising!
But people don’t just see billboards; they also reference them when making everyday decisions. Some 60% of people decide where to eat based on a billboard they saw, and 58% use the same method to pick an event. Almost a quarter of people who see billboards take note of the phone numbers and websites they list — benefiting thousands of brick-and-mortar stores in the process.
But perhaps the greatest endorsement for billboards comes not from the public, but from the tech giants themselves. From the leading online shopping sites to the biggest search engines and everything in between, digital companies now spend hundreds of millions to advertise their brands on billboards.
With their old-fashioned, unassuming style of advertising, billboards are often an object of derision by digital advertisers. Yet despite what digital advertising gurus might claim, the numbers show that billboards — at least for the moment — are having the last laugh.