With the politerati converging on Tampa and Charlotte, Washington insiders and state-based advocacy groups looking to get their messages in front of thousands of influential eyeballs are turning to a time-honored medium with a 21st-century twist: the digital billboard.
A cable network and a North Carolina trade group are among the organizations broadcasting their messages on digital billboards in the host cities.
The North Carolina Association of Realtors bought a month of advertising on 10 digital billboards to target the policymakers and lawmakers flooding the state during the Democratic National Convention, imploring them to keep taxes, regulations, and fees on homeownership affordable. After the convention wraps, the ads will change focus, said Cady Thomas, the group’s government-affairs director.
“We went with digital because the convention is only one week out of the month that we purchased. We wanted to focus the convention week on public officials and the issues that they focus on,” Thomas said. “The other three weeks … we’ll focus on the importance of homeownership to the consumer.”
Unlike traditional billboard ads, which can take weeks to produce, print, and hang, digital billboards can be switched out with a few keystrokes. They can even be connected to RSS and Twitter feeds to provide real-time messages. The flexibility lets political and advocacy campaigns respond to events quickly.
For instance, when President Obama recently visited Orlando, Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign rented digital billboards to feature small-business owners in Florida telling Obama that they built their own companies—a not-so-subtle shot at the president’s now-infamous “you didn’t build that” remark. The ads made headlines across the battleground state: “Mitt Romney campaign welcomes Barack Obama to Orlando,” read one from the Tampa Bay Times. “The attraction is the speed, geographic targeting, and the ability to generate buzz,” Ken Klein of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America said of digital ads. “If you’re a political entity … generating buzz in the news cycle is of value, and, in some cases, it’s of premium value.”
It took two days to make the Romney campaign’s idea a reality, Klein said. And the price tag was relatively cheap. The cost per thousand impressions is about $6; comparable unit pricing for TV time can go as high as $20, said Stephen Freitas, the Outdoor Advertising Association’s chief marketing officer. To put that in real dollars, a month of advertising on 10 billboards cost the North Carolina Realtors $50,000, a fraction of what local TV ads would have cost.
C-SPAN bought a digital billboard right off the highway between Tampa and the airport to advertise its convention coverage. A month of advertising cost $4,500. “Digital has value because you can put it up quickly. It has a good look because they’re backlit and they have a lot of energy,” said Marty Dominquez, C-SPAN’s marketing vice president.
And if digital billboards are good for political advertising, then they are most excellent for the people who own them. “The [convention] is great for business,” said Gale Bonnell, general sales manager for Adams Outdoor Advertising. “This is the Super Bowl of politics.”