It’s a Sign

Modern media knows no bounds when it comes to reaching a target audience. We allow ourselves to be reached any time, day or night, and for the most part we are ok with this. We think it connects us all in some way, and we don’t want to miss anything. Sure, the old stand-bys still serve their purpose; television and radio, though waning on the radar of media manipulation (thank you, TiVo), still reach a vast proportion of the population. But the evolution of the Internet, complete with the explosion of social networking, has made advertising possible on levels once inconceivable.

This has me curious about outdoor advertising. If we can be reached on so many more personal levels, then to what purpose do we still have billboards on the side of the interstate? Do they exist simply for nostalgic reasons? Are we actually affected by their content?

I have no personal beef with outdoor advertising; in fact, I think the interstate would be pretty boring without something to look at every once in awhile. I do, however, find fault with those billboards whose meanings remain elusive even ten miles down the road. Take, for example, the billboard next to the expressway. It reads, “The end is near.” That’s it. There’s no attribution, no remedy, no solution offered, no sponsor. Just a simple prognostication of what’s in store.

While I appreciate honesty in advertising, I also appreciate some direction. Buy this, don’t buy that. Eat here, don’t eat there. I suspect I’m not alone. We like to know who’s sponsoring the advertising. We like our cynicism with a little side of purpose. Instead what we get from billboards like this one is not only more confusion but also an imposing sense of the inevitable, something most of us would rather not think about, particularly as we drive down the freeway.

I can’t help wondering about the goal of billboards like this one. Nostalgia? Certainly not. An attempt to garner business? Well, isn’t that the point? To create a sense of urgency? That only works when the sign also explains who can alleviate the urgency.

Is this the future of outdoor advertising? Why expend the effort? The money? If this is what we have to look forward to on road trips, my personal prediction is that most of us will spend a lot more time with our smartphones on which we can be advertised to in ways that don’t inspire a sense of futility.

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