By Darrin Friskney
Vice President of Sales, Watchfire Signs
It's a Bird ... It's a plane ... It's ... a digital billboard?
Superman may be taking over theaters this summer, but there's a real-life crime fighter out there capturing criminals, protecting the public and making communities proud. Digital billboards do all this and more. An incredibly powerful advertising medium, they're disrupting a 150-year old industry.
Here are just a few of the ways digital billboards are playing a superhero-like role in many communities, both large and small:
1. Protecting the public
When a crisis arises, local, state and federal emergency responders and agencies are turning to digital billboards to alert and inform the public. Digital billboards played a critical role in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, displaying photos of the suspects and warning the public to stay indoors during the citywide manhunt. FEMA used digital billboards during Hurricane Sandy to display emergency weather alerts across 10 states. Each update, from request to posting, took less than 15 minutes. With the ability to update messages remotely and almost immediately, digital billboards are a valuable tool for alerting and informing the public in an emergency. Communities all over the country are using digital billboards to warn residents of flood alerts, tornado warnings and other emergencies.
2. Capturing criminals
Digital billboards have also been used across the country to display the photos of local, state and federal fugitives. To date, digital billboards have led to the capture or surrender of more than 50 fugitives. According to the FBI, the program, "takes our investigation and adds that sixth man. The sixth man in basketball is very important, and most of the time it's the audience. In a situation like this it lends eyes and ears to our investigations because it provides additional information that we just may not be able to run across in our day-to-day operation."
3. Fighting crime and preventing tragedies What's better than catching criminals after the act? Stopping crimes and preventable tragedies before they happen. Numerous non-profits and public service organizations have turned to digital billboards to inform and educate the public. Some recent public awareness campaigns have focused on preventing texting and driving, vaccine-preventable diseases, forest fires, childhood obesity and buzzed driving. Other campaigns are focused on improving the quality of life with messages promoting foster care adoption, pet adoption and the popular "Pass it On" campaign by the Foundation for a Better Life.
4. Rescuing the young and elderly
Digital billboard operators throughout the U.S. have partnered with The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to display AMBER Alerts for serious child abduction cases. These alerts can be displayed within minutes and are generally given precedence over paid advertisements. Digital billboards also are being used to display Silver Alerts, used primarily for seniors who have gone missing and are suffering from Alzheimer's disease, dementia or other mental disabilities.
5. Saving local economies
The growth of the digital billboard industry in the wake of the recession is no coincidence. With sales revenue down for many businesses, operators and advertisers have learned to innovate. Digital billboards are a significant asset to local advertisers, which in turn generates jobs and revenue for the local economy. While a growing number of national brands utilize billboards for their advertising, according to the OAAA more than 70 percent of billboard advertisers are local businesses. In smaller markets, 90 percent of billboard advertisements are for local businesses, and more than 96 percent of those advertisers are small businesses. Digital billboards also generate income for local landowners leasing their property to billboard operators.
6. Making communities proud
Digital billboards have been particularly successful in smaller markets in recent years. Last year, I wrote in my blog here on DST about why digital billboards were well suited for these smaller markets, most likely due to the absence of their own local media outlets. The installation of a digital billboard in these smaller markets can also be a sign that they've "made the big time." Recognized as a new and exciting technology, digital billboards help foster a sense of pride and growth for smaller communities. Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman recently echoed this sentiment in a study conducted by Arbitron, saying, "Digital billboards are right in line with the whole cityscape. They communicate that we are a city that embraces technology. We actually have some of the newest state-of-the-art, cutting edge advertising."
Today, digital billboards are playing a "superhero" role in 46 states and more than 450 communities. They're improving the ability of organizations, agencies, non-profits and municipalities to protect and serve the public. The public, in large part, has embraced this technology. A recent study by Arbitron revealed, "The vast majority of commuters (more than four out of five) feel digital billboards provide an important community service." It's time for communities to take another look at digital billboards and let this superhero get to work.
Learn more about digital billboards.
Friskney is vice president of sales for the Outdoor Advertising Division of Danville, Ill.-based Watchfire Signs, which has been manufacturing outdoor electric signs since 1932.