5 Criteria for Determining If Digital Billboards Are Right for Your New Store

5 Criteria for Determining If Digital Billboards Are Right for Your New Store

Both digital and traditional billboards can be effective tools in your new store’s media strategy; choosing between them is a matter of understanding the benefits of each format.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), there are currently over 450,000 billboards sprinkled across the 46* states that currently allow billboard advertising.  And, over 4,500 of them are digital LED (or “electronic”) billboards.  They look like large-screen television screens along the side of the road.  If you haven’t seen a digital billboard lately, you soon will.   Industry experts acknowledge that as many as 400 digital boards (either new locations or retrofitted traditional billboards) are being added to out-of-home inventory every six months.

In the early days of the digital billboard “revolution,” many municipalities around the country banned the use of electronic boards out of fear that drivers would be distracted by the bright, moving graphics.

However, at the end of 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration released a study that essentially dismissed those concerns.  It found that drivers devote between 73 and 85 percent of their visual attention to the roadway and the task at hand (driving), regardless of whether the advertising along their route is composed of digital or standard billboards.

So, now that electronic billboards are becoming less of a “lightning rod” for controversy, you are likely to see more and more of them in your trade area.  And, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of the format as you determine how (or if) digital boards fit into your new store’s out-of-home marketing plan.

Here are five considerations to help you decide:

The cost of digital billboards will vary by market depending on inventory and demand.  If there are a number of units available, you may find a lower rate on a digital board than a traditional, static billboard.  However, in many cases digital billboards will be sold at a premium.

It is also important to note that outdoor companies sell space (or a “flip”) on a digital board to as many as eight different advertisers.  So, you’re sharing that billboard with seven other brands.  Another way of looking at it is that you own 100% of the space on a standard board for the length of your contract.  You only own 12.5% of a digital billboard.

As with any medium, longer contracts are almost always going to enable you to lower your monthly media costs.  So, determine your long-term plans and factor them into your negotiations.


Another benefit of digital outdoor is that you don’t have to physically print the design on vinyl or paper and then “install” it onto the billboard structure.  An electronic board uses a small digital file that is simply uploaded to the outdoor company and can be displayed on the digital board almost instantaneously.  This saves you production dollars, as well as potentially weeks of time that is typically required for printing, shipping and installing artwork on traditional static boards.


As you know, one of the benefits of using out-of-home advertising is the ability to display your message in close proximity to your store.  The unfortunate reality is that, since digital billboards currently represent only one percent of the industry’s existing inventory, it’s very possible (perhaps even likely) there won’t be an LED board close to your store.   However, because of the expense of installing a digital billboard, outdoor companies are likely to place them in high-traffic locations.  So, you’re paying for a big audience.

You may want to consider developing two messaging strategies for your store’s billboard campaign – one that takes advantage of nearby static boards and a second for digital boards that can be changed on an as-needed basis.


The ability to change messaging frequently and inexpensively is one of the major draws of using digital billboards.  Changing the message on a traditional board requires printing and re-posting charges (and the costs that go along with the changes).  Messages on digital boards can be changed again and again.

Do you wish you could use a different message at different times of the day?  With electronic boards, you can.  Do you want to speak to different members of your   (potential) customer base?  Go for it!  How about adapting your message based on the weather?  You can do that, too.  Just remember to negotiate the cost of any     changes you envision.  Just because it’s easy to make the change, doesn’t mean you won’t be asked to pay for it.  If possible, incorporate a predetermined number of “free” creative changes into your contract.

Also, if you live in a market with limited outdoor inventory, don’t hesitate to contract for more than a single “flip” on a great digital board location.  Federal guidelines mandate that digital billboards rotate messages every four to 10 seconds.  So, you’ll never be very far from your next billboard message.


I have always demanded category exclusivity for my clients’ media schedules.  Out-of-home should be no exception!  Even traditional outdoor advertising typically adheres to the rule of thumb that two similar advertisers should not have boards in a viewer’s “line of sight.”

Remember, you’re sharing the same space with up to seven other advertisers.  So, when you write your contracts, be sure to demand exclusivity for your store or brand.

Out-of-home advertising can be a great way to help drive customers to your store’s grand opening.  And, as technology changes, you have more and more tools at your disposal. Learn what billboard options are available in your market and then get creative with using them.

Your ability to put the right message in front of the right customer at the right time may be just around the next corner – literally.

*Currently, the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont do not allow billboard advertising.

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Scott Kuhn

About Scott Kuhn

Scott is CEO of Sheehy, a regional advertising, marketing and media agency. He has been helping companies plan and execute store grand openings and remodels for more than 20 years.

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