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Billboards — Signs — Work



In October, Dr. Nisa Khan’s EDS column analyzed electronic digital billboards, as did Bob Klausmeier’s regular appearing ST column. Nisa included Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter contest win over, an event proposed by Oprah Winfrey, last April.

If you missed it (I did), Kutcher agreed to a social media (Twitter) popularity contest against news, while on air at the Oprah television show. The parties agreed the winner would donate to malaria relief in Africa.

You may remember that Kutcher is Demi Moore’s husband. This, in my book, makes him famous. On a lesser scale, he was a “That ’70s Show” actor and has also made several movies.

Kutcher — does he have a marketing department? — quickly convinced Lamar Advertising to promote his side in the Twitter contest. It subsequently narrowcast “Follow Aston Kutcher on Twitter” via its 1,133 electronic billboards.

Nisa, commenting on the ad industry disregard for LED-based displays, wrote, “LED-based lamps, a sizzling topic in the lighting and semiconductor industries, are occasionally examined in the general media, but, interestingly, the advertising and communication media, despite Ashton Kutcher’s efforts, hasn’t seemed to notice the LED-based, electronic-media phenomena.”

Kutcher won. He scored more than one million followers. One source estimated Kutcher’s message reached 34 million people.


Nisa wrote that Advertising Age magazine had “ . . . roared over Twitter’s success with this event, but then asked if Kutcher should be disqualified for using ‘old school advertising.


Lamar illuminated its electronic billboards for Kutcher within a few hours of the request. The production line followed Lamar’s AMBER-Alert™ system.

Nisa asked if the magazine’s Madison Avenue-type readers weren’t aware of modern, LED-based billboard technology.

In a related story, David Steele, University of South Florida Polytechnic’s director of university advancement (He said, "Marketing is 75% message and the other half mischief."), grabbed the opening. Upon seeing the Kutcher billboard, he immediately initiated an on-campus, electronic-billboard message that said, “Ignore Aston Kutcher.”

The message included the college Twitter address that, Steele said, received a record number of hits.


Obviously, billboards — signs — work.


Amber — and criminal — alerts
The FBI posted photos on electronic billboards in eight Southern states. It said it could freely use the photos because the guy didn’t attempt to cover his face, thus, leaving no doubt of his guilt. The next day’s headline: “FBI names bank robbery suspect featured on billboards.” The story outlined how the electronic-billboard images had brought the robber’s name — Chad E. Schaffner — to the FBI.

Schaffner is a suspect for robberies in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. He was released from Indiana s prison system last year, following an armed-robbery conviction.
The FBI Knoxville office said the case “… is an emblematic example of the importance of public/private sector alliances in bringing criminals to justice in today s information age."

Clear Channel Outdoor was the first to provide space on its nationwide, digital-billboard network, an FBI report said, “to help catch crooks and rescue kidnapped kids.” Since then, others have joined the team. The FBI said electronic billboards have led to the capture of at least 14 fugitives. All at essentially no cost to the American taxpayer.

My favorite quote is from FBI Public Affairs Assistant Director John Miller. He said, “These are not your father’s billboards.”



The Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America (OAAA) has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC) as a secondary Amber Alert distributor and, as of June, OAAA has processed more than 180 Amber Alerts in 31 states.

The Amber Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, media outlets, and transportation agencies. The U.S. Department of Justice, which is the Amber Alert overseer, says more than 457 child rescues are attributed to the alerts, since its 1996 inception.

OAAA says more than a dozen outdoor-advertising companies participate, incorporating approximately 1,500 digital billboards.

If the U.S. Department of Justice, NCMEC, FBI and Kutcher’s Hollywood cohorts recognize the success of digital billboards, wouldn’t you think Advertising Age would see it too?


A degree in digital signage
Texas State Technical College (Sweetwater, TX) offers two programs for digital-signage technology. Its website says the program will offer a digital signage technology associates degree and a digital signage assistant certificate.

The program will train students in design, installation and management of the software necessary to operate digital-signage systems. The courses include Adobe Photoshop, Flash and Premiere, which, it said, will allow graduates to create graphic content for delivery through digital-signage systems.

ISF Commercial and the Digital Signage Experts Group, a division of Braun Consulting LLC (Vista, CA), offers a one-day (or online) Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program that, it said, provides the fundamentals of digital signage.

Bill Yackey, the editor of the Digital Signage Today website (Louisville, KY), recently asked a Linked In group its opinion on a degree in digital signage. “What’s your take?” he said, referencing the Sweetwater classes.

Almost immediately, Jeff Berman, the president of Media Connect USA (New York City) wrote, “It s OOH [out of home] advertising, the bottom rung of media.”

An odd answer, I thought, because Media Connect USA is a media-consulting business that specializes in LED-mesh, display technology, a type of outdoor advertising. Also, Jeff’s LinkedIn bio says he was once the VP of business development for Clear Channel Media, a company experienced in outdoor media.

I emailed Jeff, asking why he’d offered such a downbeat reply, but, to date, haven’t received an answer.

I certainly don’t believe OOH is the bottom rung. The growth rate of LED-based billboards technology is impressive, plus other systems — LCD, plasma and OLED — are reaching further into retail stores.


A second respondent said he’d like to see content development, advertising, infrastructure and design added to the Sweetwater agenda, plus video production and editing, multimedia and, perhaps, some engineering facets.

Perhaps the school could later add a Master’s program.


Trucks are better known
Stacey pointed me to the FBI website, to search for other, criminal-catching billboard stories. Here are two I enjoyed reading.

Last year, Richard Franklin Wiggins Jr. was arrested three weeks after both Lamar Advertising and Adams Outdoor ran his image on their digital billboards. Wiggins, the FBI said, turned himself in at the insistence of his family and friends.

In other words, don’t embarrass the family.

Also in 2008, Christopher Ellis was apprehended for a multi-state crime spree that included a bank robbery in Kentucky, a kidnapping and carjacking in Georgia, and a home invasion in Tennessee. The digital billboards soon displayed a photo of him and his truck.
Smart move. In the South, trucks are better known than the men who drive them. n



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