Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Why billboards will outlive newspapers

14 March 2010

I’m certainly not the first person to have noticed the downward trend in market share enjoyed by newspapers and other print media. But will the increasing cleverness of e-readers and smart phones mean that these rising stars of the “virtual press” eventually consign the literal press to the same dustbin of history as slate and parchment?

Sorry, but I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. But regardless of whether print media can reinvent themselves in a way that keeps the logging industry alive, one thing became blindingly clear to me this morning, as I was walking from the train station to my office: the humble billboard will probably end up being the cockroach of the literal media. It has all the attributes that will allow it to survive the extreme evolutionary pressures that are currently exercising the greatest minds behind the world’s leading newspaper conglomerates.

Why do I think this? The first thing to understand is that it has nothing at all to do with the sophistication of the advertising content of billboards. They tend to lumber along more or less unchanged in this respect. However, the big advantage they have is that, no matter how virtual we manage to make our lives, we still need to move through physical space for some purpose or other, whether it be to go to the beach, eat out at a restaurant, take a holiday, or visit family—or even go shopping or drop in at the office, while these quaint practices last. This means that we still need to walk, drive, cycle, swim or fly past spaces where advertisers can scavenge for our attention.

So if I’m right about this, the billboard is poised to be the last outpost of the literal media. But you might protest: aren’t billboards also starting to use all the same digital wizardry of the virtual press? Doesn’t this mean that they’re going over to the dark side already?

Strictly speaking, yes. But billboards remain resolutely a form of physical-space push marketing: there’s no interactivity here, just exactly what advertisers want us to see, when they want us to see it. So even if they become completely digital in the long run, they don’t need to reinvent themselves by tapping into the marketing power of social media, or listening to their customers, or offering us freebies. They just have to sit there.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from tuning them out, as many of us, with years of practice, already do. They can become just as much the victims of “bannerphobia” as those excruciating websites that bounce us away just a few seconds after we’ve landed on them. And this certainly will diminish their push-power.

But like the cockroach, the billboard doesn’t need to be in your face to be doing its job. (Well, actually it does need to be in your face, but you don’t need to be aware that it’s in your face, if you know what I mean.) Even if its content isn’t compelling enough to grab your full attention, it’s still there in the background, quietly gathering the crumbs of your fleeting awareness for its own inscrutable purposes. And that’s all the sustenance it needs to survive. As for printed newspapers, and many other denizens of the literal press, the writing may well be on your facebook Wall already.

Jim Beattie © 2010. Created 15.03.2010. Last updated 15.03.2010.

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