Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A billboard or hoarding is a large outdoor signboard, usually wooden, found in places with high traffic such as cities, roads, motorways and highways. Billboards show large advertisements aimed at passing pedestrians and drivers. The vast majority of billboards are rented to advertisers rather than owned by them.
Typically showing large, witty slogans splashed with distinctive color pictures, billboards line the highways and are placed on the sides of buildings, peddling products and getting out messages. Billboards originally existed alongside and later largely replaced advertisements painted directly onto the sides of buildings or designed into roofs in shingle patterns.
Billboards are typically large wooden signs, with the larger ones typically 48'x14' or 24'x12' (width x height) the display is painted or printed on a vinyl sheet which is glued onto the board. Smaller 22'x10' and 20'6"x9' billboards display a series of thirty or twenty four printed posters respectively to make up the sign. This format is cheaper to produce but has less visual impact.
Some modern billboards use a technique called tri-faced (also known as rotating or multi-message billboards). These billboards show three separate adverts in rotation using a mechanical system. They are made up of a series of triangular prisms arranged so that they can be rotated to present three separate flat display surfaces. The displays for these billboards are printed on strips of vinyl which are fixed to the faces of the triangular panels, with one strip from each of three different displays attached to each panel. In this way as the panels rotate and pause three unique signs can be displayed in the same space. These signs are thought to be more effective as the motion draws attention to the messages displayed.
New billboards are being produced that are entirely digitized (using projection and similar techniques), allowing animations and completely rotating advertisements. Even holographic billboards are in use in some places.
Interaction is an emerging theme in electronic billboards, with Britain at the forefront: in Piccadilly Circus the Coca-Cola billboard responds to the weather and responds with an animated wave when passersby wave at it . London movie theatres are experimenting with billboards which contain an embedded computer chip which can interact with the web browser found in many cell phones to provide more information on the subject of the advertisement.  In the spring of 2004 in Times Square in New York City, a Yahoo! Autos promotion displayed on an LED billboard allowed one to call a phone number with a cell phone and play a two-person racing game where the cars appeared on the billboard.  There are also upcoming billboard technologies that will synchronize with advertisements on radio stations. Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan, is famous for its large digital billboards.
Billboard advertisements are designed to catch a person's attention and create a memorable impression very quickly, leaving the reader thinking about the advertisement after they have driven past it. They have to be readable in a very short time because they are usually read while being passed at high speeds. Thus there are usually only a few words, in large print, and a humorous or arresting image in brilliant color.
Some billboard designs spill outside the actual space given to them by the billboard, with parts of figures hanging off the billboard edges or jutting out of the billboard in three dimensions. A humorous example in the United States around the turn of the 21st century were the Chick-fil-A billboards (a chicken sandwich fast food chain), which had three-dimensional cow figures in the act of painting the billboards with misspelled anti-beef slogans such as "frendz dont let frendz eat beef."
Placement of billboards
Alongside highways are some of the most noticeable and prominent places billboards are situated, since passing drivers typically have little to occupy their attention so the impact of the billboard is greater. Billboards are often drivers' primary way of finding out where food and fuel are available when driving on unfamiliar highways. There were approximately 450,000 billboards on United States highways as of 1991. Somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 are erected each year. Billboards are in Europe a major component and source of income in urban street furniture concepts.
An interesting use of billboards unique to highways was the Burma-Shave advertisements between 1925 and 1963, which had 4- or 5-part messages stretched across multiple signs, keeping the reader hooked by the promise of a punchline at the end. This example is in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution:
- Shaving brushes
- You'll soon see 'em
- On a shelf
- In some museum
These sort of multi-sign advertisements are no longer common, though they are not extinct. One recent example, advertising for the NCAA, depicts a basketball player aiming a shot on one billboard; on the next one, 90 yards away, is the basket.
Many cities have high densities of billboards, especially in places where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic—Times Square in New York City is a good example. Because of the lack of space in cities, these billboards are painted or hung on the sides of buildings and sometimes are even free-standing billboards hanging above buildings. Billboards on the sides of buildings create different stylistic opportunities, with artwork that incorporates features of the building into the design e.g. using windows as eyes, or for gigantic frescoes that adorn the entire building.
Opposition to billboards
Visual and environmental concerns
Many groups such as Scenic America have complained that billboards on highways cause too much clearing of trees and intrude on the surrounding landscape, with billboards' bright colors, lights and large fonts making it hard to focus on anything else. Other groups believe that billboards and advertising in general contribute negatively to the mental climate of a culture by promoting products as providing feelings of completeness, wellness and popularity to motivate purchase. One focal point for this sentiment would be the magazine AdBusters, which will often showcase politically motivated billboard and other advertising vandalism, called culture jamming.
As of 2000, rooftops in Athens had grown so thick with billboards that it was getting very difficult to see its fabled architecture. In preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics, the city embarked on a successful four-year project demolishing the majority of rooftop billboards to beautify the city for the tourists the games will bring, overcoming resistance from advertisers and building owners. These billboards were for the most part illegal, but had been ignored up to then.
Road safety concerns
In the United States, many cities tried to put laws into effect to ban billboards as early as 1909 (California Supreme Court, Varney & Green vs. Williams) but the First Amendment has made these attempts difficult. A San Diego law championed by Pete Wilson in 1971 cited traffic safety and driver distraction as the reason for the billboard ban, but that law too was narrowly overturned by the Supreme Court in 1981, in part because it banned non-commercial as well as commercial billboards.
Billboards have long been accused of being distracting to drivers and causing accidents. Signs with bright colors and eye-grabbing pictures may cause drivers to look away from the road during a crucial moment. Electronic, animated signs in particular have been singled out  as a cause. Studies have also shown that billboards at junctions and on long stretches of highway may have a particularly detrimental effect on road safety.
Laws limiting billboards
There has been some legal success in curbing billboards. San Diego's efforts opened up some legal avenues that made it possible for other cities to ban billboards. And at the national level, the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, championed by Lady Bird Johnson, limited the rapidly increasing number of billboards along the nation's highway. (An interesting note about that legislation: around major holidays, volunteer groups put up large highway signs offering free coffee at the next rest stop to keep drivers awake on their long treks from state to state. These billboards were specifically exempted from the limits in the Act.)
Billboards often become targets for culture jammers who oppose the commercialism of their message or the corporation that sponsors the billboard. In an activity called billboard liberation, culture jammers modify billboards in ways that change the meaning of the sign altogether, often in a humorous way. For example, the Animal Liberation Front once replaced a Chick-fil-A billboard's "Eat More Chicken" message with "Eat More Tofu."
Uses of billboards
Most highway signs exist to advertise local restaurants and shops in the miles to come, and are crucial to drawing business in small towns that no one would stop at otherwise. One illuminating example is Wall Drug, which in 1931 put up billboards advertising "free ice water" and the town of Wall, South Dakota as it is known today was essentially built around the 20,000 customers per day those billboards were bringing in as of 1981. Some signs were even placed in locations great distances away, with slogans such as "only 827 miles to Wall Drug, with FREE ice water." In some areas the signs were so dense that one sign almost immediately followed the last. This situation changed after the Highway Beautification Act was passed; the proliferation of Wall Drug billboards is sometimes cited as one of the reasons the bill was passed.
Big name advertisers
Billboards are also used to advertise national or global brands, particularly in more densely populated urban areas. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America , the top three companies advertising on billboards as of 2003 were McDonald's, Anheuser-Busch and Miller. A large number of wireless phone companies, movie companies, cars manufacturers and banks are high on the list as well.
Billboards are also a major venue of cigarette advertising (10% of Michigan billboards advertise alcohol and tobacco, according to the Detroit Free Press ). This is particularly true in countries where tobacco advertisements are not allowed in other media. For example in the U.S. tobacco advertising was banned on radio and television in 1971, leaving billboards and magazines as some of the last places tobacco could be advertised. Billboards made the news in America when, in the tobacco settlement of 1999, all cigarette billboards were replaced with anti-smoking messages. In a parody of the Marlboro Man, some billboards depicted cowboys riding on ranches with slogans like "Bob, I miss my lung."
Non-commercial use of billboards
Not all billboards are used for advertising products and services—non-profit groups and government agencies use them to communicate with the public. In 1999 an anonymous person created the God Speaks billboard campaign in Florida "to get people thinking about God", with witty statements signed by God. "Don't make me come down there", "We need to talk" and "Keep using my name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer" were parts of the campaign, which was picked up by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and continues on billboards across the country to this day.
South of Olympia, Washington is the privately owned Uncle Sam billboard. It features conservative, sometimes inflammatory messages, changed on a regular basis. Chehalis farmer Al Hamilton first started the board during the Johnson era, when the government was trying to make him remove his billboards along interstate 5. He had erected the signs after he lost a legal battle to prevent the building of the freeway across his land. Numerous legal and illegal attempts to remove the Uncle Sam billboard have failed, and it is now in its third location. Humor has been more successful. One message, attacking a nearby liberal arts college, was photographed, made into a postcard and is sold in the College Bookstore.
Early billboards were basically large posters on the sides of buildings, with limited but still appreciable commercial value. As roads and highways multiplied, the billboard business thrived.
- 1795 – Lithography was invented, making real posters possible
- 1835 – Jared Bell was making 9x6 posters for the circus in the U.S.
- 1867 – Earliest known billboard rentals (source: OAAA)
- 1872 – International Bill Posters Association of North America was established (now known as the Outdoor Advertising Association of America ) as a billboard lobbying group.
- 1889 - The world's first 24 sheet billboard was displayed at the Paris Exposition and later at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The format was quickly adopted for various types of advertising, especially for circuses, traveling shows, and movies
- 1907 – The Model T automobile is introduced in the U.S., increasing the number of people using highways and therefore the reach of roadside billboards.
- 1925 – Burma-Shave makes its billboards lining the highways
- 1931 – The Wall Drug billboards start to go up nationwide
- 1965 – the Highway Beautification Act is passed after much campaigning by Lady Bird Johnson
- 1971 – The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act bans cigarette ads in television and radio, moving that business into billboards
- 1981 – The Supreme Court overturns a San Diego billboard ban, but leaves room open for other cities to ban commercial billboards
- 2000 – Athens clears billboards off rooftops in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics
- Outdoor Advertising Association of America homepage
- OAAA's history of outdoor advertising
- Scenic America website
- Creating Award-Winning Outdoor – a wonderful billboard style guide, with plenty of humorous examples
- Scenic America Billboard Information – Scenic America's huge reservoir of information on billboards including statistics on how many there are.
- External-To-Vehicle Driver Distraction by Dr Brendan Wallace of Scotland Executive Social Research – study on normal billboards and accidents
- A history of Wall Drug, the store built on highway billboards
- Billboard Liberation Front
- Billboards coming down in city centre to reveal glimpses of classical Athens
Legal history in the United States
- Highway Beautification Act – 23 U.S.C. Section 131
- 23 Code of Federal Regulations – Part 750 (Highway Beautification)
- Analysis of 23 C.F.R. Part 750 Subpart G, in the Federal Register (40 FR 42842-42844, Tuesday, September 16, 1975) – responses to comments and changes in the rules for HBA
- Legally Speaking, San Diego Metropolitan Magazine, June '97 by Pamela Lawton Wilson – some of the legal history of attempts to ban billboards
- METROMEDIA, INC. v. SAN DIEGO, 453 U.S. 490 (1981). – Supreme Court decision on San Diego billboard ban, decided July 2, 1981.
- SAFETY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS IN THE USE OF COMMERCIAL ELECTRONIC VARIABLE-MESSAGE SIGNAGE (Federal Highway Administration Report No. FHWA/RD-80/051) – study on electronic billboards and accidents
- 15 U.S.C. 36 section 1335 – "Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act" outlawing cigarette advertisements on television and radio
Billboard galleries and campaigns
- The "God Speaks" billboards
- Ask SAM, Winston-Salem Journal, Jan 29, 2002 – research into the origins of the "God Speaks" campaign
- Ron English billboards – Culture Jamming
- Tobacco Settlement Billboards
- Foundation For a Better Life
- [Snoyes's Pro-Billboard Campaign]
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