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What is an Electronic Billboard?

Updated on September 19, 2015
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

Electronic billboard with monochrome red LED display.
Electronic billboard with monochrome red LED display. | Source

An electronic billboard is basically a large (or even giant!) screen made up of LED (light emitting diode) bulbs whose lights are arranged and timed to create static, changing or full motion text and images. It can also go by these names:

  • Digital billboard
  • Digital, electronic or video display
  • Electronic message sign or board

It can be thought of as being similar to a digital photo which is made up of pixels. However, on an electronic billboard, pixels are LED bulbs. Unlike a digital photo, the resolution is not determined by how many pixels the board uses, but how close together the pixels are. The closer together they are, the more realistic the image that can be produced.

The simplest and least expensive are monochrome boards that use one color (usually red or amber) LED bulbs to create text messages or even simple pictures. More complex boards can produce multiple color, television-like images since each pixel has three color LEDs (red, green and blue, also referred to as RGB) just like a television or computer screen. Images created for the billboards, whether simple or complex, are controlled by a combination of hardware, computers, software and Internet connections, usually remotely.

Though typically used outdoors for advertising, some electronic billboard equipment can also be used indoors for retail, restaurants, trade shows, entertainment and sporting events. Other uses both indoors and out can include traffic alerts, directional signs and safety information (such as in construction zones).

According to outdoor digital billboard manufacturer Watchfire, there are currently around 450,000 billboards in the United States and only about 0.55 percent of them have been converted to digital. So there is a high potential for growth.

Times Square, New York City, is home to many electronic billboards.

Dynamic Digital Signage and Flexible Advertising Advantage

Unlike standard billboard signs made of paper or vinyl materials which remain in place for weeks or months at a time, electronic billboard images can be quickly and easily changed, even within minutes and sometimes remotely. This allows an advertiser to start, stop or change promotions to take advantage of short-term opportunities and frequently changing data.

The ability to change digital signs quickly, frequently and/or remotely is referred to as dynamic digital signage. Some applications of this technology could include:

  • Restaurant menu boards that change according to time of day.
  • Directional signs that may change from day to day, such as for events, conferences and trade shows.
  • Advertising tailored for specific marketing demographics and locations.

This can help reduce costs for physical signs and provide more effective communications.

How Electronic Billboard Advertising is Sold

Electronic billboard equipment can be sold direct to businesses to use on their own properties.

Ads can also be purchased on existing electronic billboards. These types of ads more resemble radio advertising in that advertisers purchase time on the billboard based on dayparts such as morning drive, daytime, afternoon drive, nighttime and overnight. Usually this time on the board is sold through local, national or even international media networks.

Images on electronic boards can be set to change every 4 to 10 seconds, depending on the equipment used and/or the advertising time package purchased.

Advanced electronic billboard technology can even offer interactive features to engage audiences.

Challenges

With the flexibility and high impact that electronic billboards can offer, one might think that they are a natural advertising choice. However, there are some significant issues that have plagued all billboard advertising for decades which are getting even more challenging with the advent of digital.

  • Driving Safety. Drivers have a myriad of distractions while on the road. An eyecatching billboard can divert drivers' attention so much that it could cause accidents. This is especially the case with digital boards that may have animated effects.
  • Local Regulations. While some communities welcome the addition of electronic billboards to the landscape, others are adamantly against them because they feel these boards visually pollute the environment. Some communities have very restrictive rules regarding placement and specifications for either safety or zoning issues. Sometimes getting approval can be a long process, delaying the marketing benefits that could be realized. These regulations are of most concern to businesses that are purchasing their own billboards. For those who are only purchasing time on an existing billboard, this is less of a concern since the board's owner has likely resolved any regulatory issues prior to installing the equipment.

Prior to any purchasing any electronic billboard equipment or ad time, advertisers should thoroughly investigate any local regulations that may apply. Consult with outdoor advertising networks and manufacturers who have experience in dealing with these issues.

Are Electronic Billboards Green?

Since electronic billboards typically use LEDs, the light produced is more energy efficient than standard light bulbs. But they are likely to become even more efficient as LED technologies continue to evolve and are integrated into the boards. They also eliminate the use of paper or vinyl products that would be used for traditional poster-type billboards.

Depending on the definition of "green," some communities may consider the use of illuminated signs as incompatible with the surrounding natural environment. As mentioned earlier, similar complaints have been an issue for all billboards over the years, prompting the development of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 in the United States.

Best Practices

As with standard billboard advertising, these best practices apply to digital as well:

  • High Contrast. There must be high degree of contrast between the message and the background. Light and muted colors can wash out on digital boards. So stick with bright and bold contrasted with darks.
  • Simplified Message. Viewers have only a few seconds to see your digital message. So only limit your message to 10 words or less and one main idea.
  • Go Large. Make both text and images large for quick reading at distances of hundreds of feet and while speeding past at up to 55 miles an hour. Even if being used for pedestrian traffic, it still applies since it may be competing in a visually noisy environment.
  • Location, Location, Location. Make sure you place your digital ad message where your most likely customer prospects will frequent.
  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Because of the swiftly shifting messages on electronic billboards, you do need to keep repeating your message over time to make sure it has the best chance to be viewed by your target audience.

In today's mobile, cable television and Internet marketplace in which ads can easily be turned off, electronic billboards can provide an always-on advertising channel for your message.

Dallas Cowboys Stadium boasts the largest LED display board in the world.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne

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  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Just updated this article with information on dynamic digital signage. Check it out!

  • heidithorne profile image
    Author

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello onu noel! I would suggest doing an Internet search for billboard advertising companies in your area since this isn't something one can do on your own unfortunately. There are usually local laws to observe (for placement, types of ads, etc.) and billboard advertising companies are very aware of what's allowed. As well, they work with builders of these signs. Let the pros help you! Good luck with your advertising program!

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    onu noel 3 years ago

    I'm a video editor n would love to erect a billboard in my local community.... Please hw do I start? Thank you...

    I'd love to know d basic requirement as it regards how I cn get d LED bulbs, what sysyem requirement do I need and so on....

  • heidithorne profile image
    Author

    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, Kasman, for stopping by! I also think of that scene in Minority Report with the e-billboards. We are not far away from that. When I see one in action, I'm sure I'll have to update the hub. :)

  • Kasman profile image

    Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

    This was a fun hub for me. I'm a fan of Digital equipment in general. I have noticed on my travels across the country that there have been some digital billboards being put into place.....not very many of them, but some. I've always enjoyed seeing it....it feels like I'm in a science fiction movie like Minority Report or something. The wave of the future man, as long as it's not killing us on money or anything I'm all for it. I really loved the NYC video too , nice touch.

    Great job with the descriptions, voting up and sharing.

  • heidithorne profile image
    Author

    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, mary615! Agreed, electronic billboard advertisers need to be conscious of the "distractor factor." Well-designed, clear messages on e-billboards can reduce the distraction caused by people straining to read while driving. Appreciate you taking the time to comment and for your support!

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

    I mention these billboards in my Hub on Distracted Drivers which you were kind enough to read and comment on. Our community finally allowed one to be erected on a busy road after much debate. It usually advertises attorneys and other local businesses. I think they finally allowed it because the county is paid for it being there.

    Good info here. Voted UP and will share.

  • heidithorne profile image
    Author

    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    You're very welcome, Rajan Jolly! Glad you enjoyed it. Cheers!

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

    Very interesting. Thanks fro sharing this info.