Some advantages of outdoor include geographic flexibility, repeat exposure, relative absence of competing advertisements and compatibility with the lifestyle of an increasingly mobile audience. Against these are balanced the creative limitations inherent in presenting only fleeting impressions to a mobile audience.
The dividing line between ancient and modern outdoor advertising is marked by a number of technological innovations in the 1870s. The development of a web-fed printing press, paper-folding machines and a new lithograph halftone process gave printing and lithography expanded commercial applications, including outdoor advertising. By the late 1800s, as the U.S. population became increasingly mobile and people no longer patronized the same local merchants as their parents had, outdoor advertising became an important medium for establishing brand identities.
Agencies that specialize in outdoor advertising have developed a rating system that measures the visibility of a message and takes into account such factors as length of the approach to the display, angle of the structure bearing the display and its position relative to other structures and travel speed of those viewing the message.
Outdoor advertising has not been without its detractors. Among its critics was Lady Bird Johnson, wife of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who tried to rid the interstate highways of billboard advertising by supporting passage of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Under the act, billboards on interstate and federal highways are restricted to commercial and industrial areas; size, lighting and spacing are regulated by states and municipalities.
Beyond the specific provisions of the act, states were left with the authority to enact further provisions to control signs, although these actions have met with mixed success. In 1977, a proposition to prohibit billboards in San Francisco was rejected by voters, while in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court declared a San Diego antibillboard ordinance unconstitutional.
The first industry group in outdoor advertising, the International Billposters' Association of North America, was founded in 1872. The most significant such organization at the beginning of the 21st century was the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Its goal is to promote the use of outdoor media, but its code of industry principles stresses respect for the environment, maintenance of good working relationships with local communities, provision of an effective and attractive product, support for worthy public causes and observation of the highest free-speech standards.
The Obie Award, established by the OAAA in 1942 to recognize excellence in outdoor creative executions, is among the oldest awards in advertising. The recipients include agencies from around the world.
Changing face of outdoor media
In the 1980s and '90s, the number and composition of outdoor media changed dramatically, and the entertainment, travel, business and consumer services; restaurants; publishing; retail; and packaged-goods industries increased their use of outdoor media by more than 300%. Packaged-goods marketers supplanted tobacco advertisers as the dominant product category in terms of revenue.
During that period, the industry also experienced significant consolidation. Nearly 100 mergers took place in the mid-1990s. By the turn of the century, the largest U.S. outdoor companies included Outdoor Systems, Eller/Clear Channel Communications, Transportation Display and Lamar Advertising Co., each with more than $300 million in annual gross revenue.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the term "outdoor advertising" was being replaced with the more inclusive "out-of-home advertising" or "outdoor media." This newer conceptualization included all media that carry messages to consumers when they are away from their place of residence, including mobile billboards, building-sized images and aerial advertising.