On a recent long drive, I noticed two additional types of billboards compared to the typical ones selling good and/or services: religious billboards and political billboards. These do not comprise a majority of billboards in my observations – or even a significant minority – but there were at least a few. Such efforts raise several questions for me:
Do religious and political billboards reach a large audience compared to other forms of media advertising? Compared to some other forms of advertising, the audience along the road might be more known: traffic counts are known and drivers who use a particular road or go through a particular location are a particular group. This may be more targeted advertising with a known number of daily viewers.
Do people seeing religious or political billboards respond to them similarly or differently compared to commercial billboards? The medium of a billboard requires a fairly simple message as people go by them at a high speed. An image or two and limited text are possible. People are used to commercial appeals. So, does anything change if a Bible verse is on a sign? I know there is a religious marketplace in the United States but does a billboard encourage more religiosity? Or, does an image of a politician and a short statement catch people’s attention? Are these just like other billboards, or, because religion and politics can be personal and contentious, do they provoke more engagement or more turning away?
My bigger question about billboards and all forms of advertising: how much does it influence behavior? I saw these billboards, they caused me to think a little and I am blogging about the concept here, and any other ongoing influence is hard to ascertain. In my lifetime, I have seen thousands of billboards, just as I have likely seen hundreds of thousands of advertisements in other forms. I know they influence people but it is hard to connect the dots between billboards and change.
I will keep looking for and reading more unusual billboards. At the least, they help break up a long drive.
The most visible of suburbs’ problems was ugliness, assaulting the eyes on highways lined with billboards and strip malls. This was something the reformist spirit of the sixties would not ignore. President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, chose highway beautification as her signature issue. After a fierce legislative battle – the billboard industry did not lack for clout in congress – the Highway Beautification Act was passed, removing billboards from rural stretches of interstate highways. (p. 81)
The President signed the Highway Beautification Act on October 22, 1965. The signing ceremony took place 2 weeks after the President had surgery to remove his gall bladder and a kidney stone at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Although he had returned to the White House only the day before, President Johnson seemed to be in an expansive mood as he recalled the drive from the hospital to the White House along the George Washington Memorial Parkway:
I saw Nature at its purest. The dogwoods had turned red. The maple leaves were scarlet and gold . . . . And not one foot of it was marred by a single unsightly man-made obstruction–no advertising signs, no junkyards. Well, doctors could prescribe no better medicine for me.
We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of our countryside. In our eagerness to expand and improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, banishing it from our daily lives. I think we are a poorer nation as a result. I do not choose to preside over the destiny of this country and to hide from view what God has gladly given.
After saying, “Beauty belongs to all the people,” he signed the bill and gave the first pen to Lady Bird, along with a kiss on the cheek.
Given the pervasiveness of advertising in the United States and a highly consumeristic society, this was a forward-thinking bill. Granted, seeing nature from the windows of a car doing 70 mph down a major interstate isn’t exactly a positive interaction with nature. But, things could be worse: the jumble of signs and logos that tend to mar many suburban strip mall areas aren’t present along highways.
Now, how about dealing with those digital billboards…
Looking to make a little extra money, and instigate an all-out war with your neighbors? A company called ‘Brainiacs from Mars‘ has the perfect solution. They’ll paint your house in the brightest, most annoying colors imaginable and plaster it with logos in the ‘Billboard Home Initiative’, which is aimed at homeowners dealing with the threat of foreclosure.
I guess homeowners facing eviction now have a new way to not go quietly. Though I wonder if pulling a stunt like this would actually accelerate the foreclosure process. With so many homeowners behind on their mortgage payments and the huge backlog of foreclosure cases in some areas, it strikes me that purposely turning one’s home into a garish billboard might move actually one to the very top of a bank’s priority list for eviction.