Billboard Monthly

August, 1st 2015

Memo From Frank

There have been some articles in the media recently about people using their bodies as billboards. Air New Zealand, for example, paid people to shave their heads and put temporary tattoos on the back of their heads. In Japan, they paid models to put temporary tattoos on their eyelids, and then wink at people all day. This may all sound like a novel idea, but the concept has been around since the 1930s. Nearly 85 years ago, someone had the bright idea of painting ads on models’ knees, so that they would be visible when they were sitting at a bar. That craze lasted for years until it … just wasn’t novel anymore. That’s what happens with these types of ads – they just lose their impact as time goes on. That’s what’s great about billboards on roads. They’ve been around for over 100 years and they still work for the advertisers, who keep on advertising on them.

What Strange Structures Are Really Saying To You

two pole billboard

This is a photo of a billboard on I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis that has a unique arrangement in the form of two poles at one end of the sign face. This is definitely not the norm – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sign structure quite like this before.

A sign of a cobbled structure

When you see a sign structure like this – completely out of the ordinary – it’s a safe bet that it’s a one-off custom concoction. Standard monopole signs have just one pole. Wooden signs have a balanced number of poles uniformly across the sign face. I-beams are spaced with compete balance, the exact same distance from one end of the sign face to the other. So when you see the occasional structure that does not meet this formula, you know there’s something strange going on. One reason that you see structures like this is that they have been built from salvaged parts. I once built an I-beam structure from metal pieces laying around a steel yard.

A sign of an altered structure

Another reason you sometimes see a “strange” structure is that it was, at one time, a normal structure and somebody has altered it. One common type of altered structure is when the sign owner needed to increase the height of the sign to clear obstructions. So they graft another piece of column on to the one that’s already there, and then bolt the head of the sign to this new addition. Another type of alteration is when the sign owner increases the size and weight of the ad space on the sign, and then has to alter the sign to handle this additional force. Look at some of the LED signs you see around town, and you will notice they have additional struts to handle the extra weight that the LED puts on the sign. I have seen every type of alteration over the last 30 years, and they are not hard to spot.

A sign of a billboard that used to have a different use

Have you ever seen a pole that is too wide – or too narrow – for the billboard it supports? That’s often because that sign was not a billboard year earlier. There’s one I pass on Interstate 55 in Missouri all the time, that began life as a gas station premise sign, and was later converted into a billboard. The problem is that the pole may or may not be able to support that load.

Any way you look at it, a sign that further diligence is needed

What do all these type of alteration scenarios have in common? If you are buying a billboard with these issues, you need to do very significant due diligence. If the sign was made of scrap pieces, it may not be safe – in fact, it may have not been engineered at all. In that case, you have no guarantee that the sign will not collapse with a strong enough wind. In addition, it may not meet OSHA specs for catwalks and safety devices. If the sign was altered due to greater weight or height than it was designed for, you again have no guarantee that it will not fall down in certain weather conditions. And if it was altered because it was a different use in the past, it might not have a valid operating permit. For example, a premise sign, if converted to a billboard, still has only a premise sign permit.


When you see a billboard that shows signs of alteration, you need to be extremely concerned about it. These type of signs offer greater risk and require greater due diligence, as a result. So the moral is: buyer beware.

The Power Of "Exit Now"

Harvard University’s business school has a few words about billboard advertising. It says, in a textbook, that the most important words on a billboard are “Exit Now”. So why are those the two most powerful words that a billboard can contain?

The power of “point of purchase”

The strength of a billboard over any other type of advertising is that it is “point of purchase”. For example, a newspaper cannot time the placement of an ad such that, when you read about the special at Pizza Hut, you happen to be in front of a Pizza Hut restaurant. But a billboard can. Every time it reaches the customer, all they have to do is “exit now” to place an order. Since the prime time to act on an advertisement is right after you see it, when the ad message is still fresh in your mind. This one trait is what makes billboards different than all other forms of media.

What that means as far as determining the best prospect for a sign

Since “point of purchase” is the number one skill of a billboard, then the ability to take advantage of that is what leads to a sign’s best advertiser candidate. Advertisers that can say “exit now” are superior to all other prospects, as their ad will be the most effective. When you are judging which, of two potential clients, has the highest likelihood of success, the one that can say “exit now” is the clear winner. As a result, you should look at all the advertisers that are located at the exit immediately after the billboard (or at most the next two exits, since “next exit” is the second most powerful message after “exit now”.

My experiences with this theory

As they say “the proof is in the pudding”. And the highest rates of renewal are always with the advertisers that can say “exit now”. In the perfect sign situation, the advertiser feels that the sign becomes an extension of their business, and would never even consider canceling their contract. Billboards that say “exit now” are the most likely to become those dream situations.


“Exit Now” truly are the two most powerful words that can go on a billboard. Harvard was right.

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The Biggest Billboard In History

eiffel tower billboard

The largest billboard in the world is the Eiffel Tower, which was used as a giant billboard for Citroen from 1925 to 1934. The letters were made up of 250,000 lightbulbs, and were 100’ tall. It is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest billboard in history. It didn’t do much good for Citroen, however, as it came down in 1934 after Citroen declared bankruptcy.

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