A Perfect Match: Why Small Towns Love Digital Billboards

Conventional wisdom says that digital billboards are best suited for high traffic areas around cities, where advertising rates can justify the cost of the boards.  However, independent operators all over the United States are installing digital billboards in small towns and advertisers are fighting for display space.

The reasons for this are many, including comparatively low CPMs, the ability to reach a large percentage of the community, the capability to network billboards for expanded coverage, and the well chronicled struggles of the only real alternative for local advertising in small town America, newspapers and radio stations.

Roland Advertising in Cookeville, Tenn. has three digital billboards in a small town of just 30,000 residents.  Dave Roland, president of Roland Advertising, has received tremendous feedback from local advertisers who say excellent value for the advertising investment and fast turn-around times are the key benefits of digital billboard advertising.  

"Digital billboards can be particularly effective for small businesses and organizations that cannot afford to advertise in newspaper or radio," said Roland, who doesn't require long-term contracts, and sells ads of nearly any duration, including just a single day.  He's even had a local sports team display an ad for a couple days to announce tryouts.

Roland cites a small knife retailer as the perfect example of how digital billboards are effective in a small town.  The retailer was located about 100 yards from one of Roland's boards and put an ad on the board for six weeks leading up to Christmas.   A truck driver, who had a regular delivery route past the store, stopped in and told the owner he never knew they were there until he saw the digital billboard.  "The retailer had their greatest sales in 28 years and their single best sales day in history, and the only thing that had changed was advertising on our digital billboard," said Roland.  

Digital billboards are significantly more cost effective for small town businesses than other local media, such as television, radio, Internet and newspaper. Depending on traffic patterns, most digital billboards have a Cost Per Thousand (CPM) ranging from $2 to $5, compared to radio, newspaper and television, with average CPMs of $14, $22, and $30 respectively.  

Digital Billboard Networks Expand Exposure
Some independent operators in small towns have created billboard networks to give advertisers distributed exposure throughout the area.

With a network of five digital billboards in a market of just 25,000 residents, Ardmore, Okla., must be the digital billboard capital of the universe.  Chris Cowlbeck, of LOOK Advertising LLC, built the network to help bolster small businesses in the area that weren't getting returns to justify their investments in other forms of media.

Interestingly, Cowlbeck hired a consultant to determine the viability of using digital billboards in Ardmore, and the consultant told him the market could handle only one or two.  Cowlbeck did his own number crunching and installed three digital billboards in July 2009.

"We turned on our first three digital billboards without pre-selling or pre-announcing them.  By the end of September 2009, the boards were 120 percent of pro-forma, with a waiting list," said Cowlbeck.  LOOK soon added two additional boards to keep up with demand, and after just 45 days, the new boards were nearly 75 percent of pro-forma.

LOOK's "rotary" network program enables advertisers to rotate their ads among all five digital billboards to achieve maximum exposure.  Since many feeder roads surround Ardmore, strategically locating billboards along these routes provides excellent exposure when ads are rotated among the boards.

The company's Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze advertising packages allow LOOK to offer the lowest dollar point for any type of advertising in the Ardmore area.  In fact, for just a couple hundred dollars a month, an advertiser can be displayed 5,000 times per month.

Cowlbeck also offers free ad creative as a way to encourage advertisers to take advantage of the flexibility of the digital billboard.  The ability to display timely, relevant content is one of the great strengths of the medium, and allows it to compete directly with other forms of electronic media.

Small towns, dwindling media
The daily newspaper is a dying breed, especially in small towns. Over the past several years, dozens of daily newspapers have either closed their doors or reduced distribution to cut costs.  Most have pulled out of small towns, leaving residents with a weekly community paper at most for news and advertising.  Small town radio has suffered a similar fate.  With fewer advertising options available in local markets, these marketers are left without cost-effective options.

Digital billboards have been quick to step in to fill the void. With advertising flexibility that rivals that of newspapers, television, Internet and radio, small town digital billboards have found an entirely new list of potential advertisers.

Small town businesses taking advantage of digital billboards include retailers advertising sales events, real estate agents listing specific properties, restaurants promoting time specific menu items and specials, banks updating mortgage rates and loan products in real time, among others.

The ability to daypart ads on digital billboards, once something only television and radio could do, offers significant, timely audience impact for small town advertisers.  They now have sophisticated and targeted marketing tools for a fraction of the cost of major media.

Digital billboards are a win-win for small towns.  They have evened the advertising playing field for small town advertisers.  With digital billboards, these businesses have a cost effective way to advertise their products and services using sophisticated advertising methods.  Digital billboards also have created opportunities for small town independent billboard operators to succeed.  Clearly, digital billboards are not just for big cities.  

Darrin Friskney is director of Watchfire Digital Outdoor, manufacturer of the most durable and dependable digital billboards available.  He can be reached at Darrin.Friskney@watchfiresigns.com or by calling (866) 949-9282.

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