Billboards provide outdoor advertising dating back to the 1960s and are placed in central, high traffic areas such as major roadways, shopping centers, skyscrapers, highways, uptown, downtown and suburban locations. They grab the attention of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Billboards can be used to advertise anything from financial data, weather forecasts, the date and time, news headlines and television broadcasts in addition to conventional corporate advertisments.

Billboards work most effective in areas that attract the most traffic with the highest potential of viewers. The Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is one of the main highways to enter into the City of Toronto. Drivers along the Gardiner are exposed to a number of billboards along the highway from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) into the downtown core. In major urban centres throughout the world, billboards litter the urban and rural streets and landscapes. Cities like New York City, New York are where countless advertisements fill every street corner, piled one on top of another. Considered to be the economic capital of the world, New York City's Time Square is the global hub of outdoor advertising. Billboards positioned in centralized locations are not only strategic but are effective. It is in centralized locations and districts like Times Square, NYC or Young & Dundas Square in Toronto, that companies erect their signs in the busiest locations and profit from the viewers. The odds of viewers to pay attention to billboards are higher in high traffic locations which is the result advertiser's wish to achieve, so that people will see their ads and buy their products.


The size of the billboard depends on the location to which it is situated--they could be small enough to place in a window or large enough to be displayed on a highway and seen from a great distance. Traditional billboards are made with wood and metals. Electronic billboards use Light Emiting Diode (LED), which allows high resolution color and density for video clips, graphics, and television commercials. Successful billboard advertisements use large fonts, clean layout, proportionate elements, and effective use of color to catch the viewer's attention. Scrolling triangular billboards are used as well, since they are able to hold three advertisements on the same billboard rather than one.

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An example of an electronic billboard displays the daily financial numbers from the Nasdaq Stock Exchange in New York, New York.

Billboards are a major target for culture jammers. Culture jammers use major corporate advertisements to sabotage their messages and convey alternative ones in hope to hurt their corporate success.

The reason why billboards are still popular among leading companies nowadays is because it is relatively inexpensive (in comparison with short, yet expensive 30 second radio and television advertising spots) Billboards are aid mechanisms for corporate America to project their campaign in a stationary high-traffic location. Which in turn, enables them to reach a wider and diverse section of the market.

Are Billboards Invasive?

The size and placement of billboards mean they simply cannot be ignored. Unlike television, radio and magazine advertising, one has little choice about being subjected to the billboard advertising. Some people feel that this is invasive in many ways.
Some feel that billboards disrupt the the natural landscape. This is more the case in places where a billboard is the only sign of urban activity - often plopped down in the middle of field in what would otherwise be "the scenic route."

Another complaint is that billboards cause accidents in major highways. Accident happenes in Gardiner express way all the time due to billboards. People see great vacation deals on the billboard and want to have the site address or the name written dow and that causes accident to happen.

In the 1970s, many people in Australia were offended by the messages that billboards conveyed, and therefore vandalized the billboards or painted over them to change their meaning. Members of the anti-billboards group signed their work 'BUGA UP' (Billboard Utilizing Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) on their 'redesigns' of the billboards. 'BUGA UP' is also meant to screw up (bugger up = buga up). The image bellow is an example of BUGA UP's work, where they change the meaning of the smoking add. The statement is changed to 'enjoy your cancer' instead of 'enjoy your freedom'. It is an aggressive statement that fights against the message the ad is originally trying to convey. It is a kind of cultural jamming, where people change or modify meanings of pre-existing messages / medias. It is to make the mass public think of something more than the what the producers of the original message wants.

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Billboard Liberation Front (BLF)
Other than BUGA UP, another group named Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) in San Francisco was also established. They are similar to BUGA UP, where they 'redesign' billboards to go against the original or intended message by the producers. But BLF attempts to modify / change billboards by not making the changes obvious. They try to keep the changes natural so that the mass public would not notice a difference at first glance. The image below is an example of BLF's work, where they change Apple's original slogan of 'Think Different' to 'Think Disillusioned'. The change is very subtle and many may not notice the modification at first. But viewers would soon realize the message to be negative and against the company ifself. BLF is an example of counter-hegemony.

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Advantage of Billboards

Billboards can also be a bonus and a good thing to society. They are not always used to help sell a product, sometimes they are used to help stop selling a product, for example, an anti-smoking ad. In addition, billboards are also used to educate the public on variuos topics and issues currently circling the Globe. This kind of advertisiment was very useful when SARS was an issue, because billboards encompassed telephone numbers for assistance and steps to take if encountered the symptoms. Overall, billboards can be used to advertise a product, and at the same time can be very educational and worthwhile.


Beautiful City Billboard Free -
Beautiful City Billboard Free (BCBF) is an organization that proposes a certain fee is paid (for existing) billboards. The funds are then directed to public arts commissions in an attempt to beautify the City of Toronto, making up for older, abandoned, or non-kept billboard structures that deteriorate the city's look and cleanly appeal.

Works Cited


Billboard Liberation Front: Think Disillusioned -
Billboard Liberation Front -
BugaUp: Enjoy Your Cancer -
Photo by Mary Altaffer -
"Time Square" by Michael Leu -