Their very name once told it all: a board to post notices or advertisements. But billboards are getting a makeover.
Billboard companies are adopting digital technology that rotates advertiser images every six or eight seconds – the better to catch the eye. The new billboards look like television screens, although the images do not move.
The problem, safety experts say, is that the new billboards may work too well, adding yet another distraction for drivers.
There are currently about 400 digital signs across the country. But within 10 years, as many as a fifth of all billboards – or about 90,000 – may be converted, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
The technology has excited both billboard companies, which can generate three to five times more money from the digital signs, and advertisers. Clear Channel Outdoor and Lamar Advertising, which has installed the majority of such billboards, promote the digital signs as more effective at getting consumers to pay attention.
“There’s a perception in the advertising industry that you have to up the ante,” said David Zald, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University. “We see so much information coming at us that for it to actually leap out and capture our attention, one has to go at a more salient level than you used to.”