In the rain, drivers might see ads for new tires, windshield wipers or time shares in sunny destinations.
In the middle of a heat wave, advertisers might show spots for trips to the mountains, air conditioners or swimming pools.
High pollen counts could triggers ads for over-the-counter allergy medications.
Television networks schedule prime time promos for the evening commute and the FBI has used them as 14 feet by 48 feet wanted posters.
Digital billboards have allowed advertisers to make miles of Monday morning traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike into a captive audience of potential customers.
All it takes is 8 seconds, the amount of time individual ads display each minute.
Interest in digital billboards has grown at a steady clip, but static bulletins, as they’re known within in the industry, still outnumber their electronic counterparts 40 to one, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
The OAAA surveys board manufacturers and the companies that own billboards twice annually. Earlier this year they counted 4,000 digital boards, many of them converted from traditional bulletins, and association data shows the industry added about 400 digital boards each year in 2012 and 2011.
Many of those 4,000 digital bulletins have gone up in tri-state area because it has traffic and consumer buying power rivaled only by the Los Angeles area.
Ken Klein, vice president of the OAAA, said digital boards haven’t replaced more traditional ones overnight because companies face different rules and laws in each locality.
“They vary widely, but typical regulations limit the amount of light boards put out to prevent glare or how closely two of the boards can be to one another,” he said. “Most states have taken steps to keep up with changes in technology and updated their laws.”
In February, a trial court sided with E&J Equities in its challenge of a Franklin Township’s digital billboard ban which stopped the Somerset company from building one along Route 287.
When localities do object to digital boards, the topic of distracted driving inevitably makes its way into the fracas.
In its own studies, the OAAA compared pre- and post-digital board installation accident data in five markets around the country and found no link between boards and crashes.
Although it hasn’t studied the digital boards, travel group AAA takes a hard line on anything that might distract someone operating a vehicle.
“I would advise drivers to concentrate on driving,” said AAA North Jersey spokesman Steve Rajcyk, “realizing there are many distractions to compete with your attention.”
Mediassociates, a Connecticut-based ad buying firm, says enough drivers glance at digital boards to make them worthwhile. Planning strategist Gianine Hall helps her clients weigh the benefits as they launch ad campaigns and said companies see the price of going digital as a big draw.
“Typically if you’re buying digital your ad shows for eight to 10 seconds every minute,” she said. “It’s less expensive to go the digital route and there are no production costs. Just printing and installing a 14 foot by 48 foot vinyl ad can cost $800. Installation can cost extra.”
Digital boards share the “out of home” advertising category with small posters, traditional billboards and super-sized boards, 20 feet by 60 feet or larger, called spectaculars.
Companies that own the boards usually sell space in four-week blocks that cost from $6,000 to $8,000, said Hall, but that varies by market and how many people see it.
The Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement, a New York-based nonprofit, has been tracking circulation of outdoor media since 1933. For the first time ever in April, the TAB Out of Home Ratings separated digital displays in their own category, separate from static bulletins.
It’s a valuable distinction to make.
Advertisers that choose the digital route typically share a board with seven other ads that display on a continuous loop. Calculating the exposure of a digital ad the same as a static ad would overestimate how many people see the ad daily and underestimate the impact of a very important feature.
“A lot of vendors I work with, they have their own portal where clients can go in themselves, upload new creative and say, ‘I want this to go up tomorrow at 4 p.m.,” Hall, the Connecticut ad buyer, said. “Take McDonald’s. At the start of their campaign they can say in the morning the ad will say ‘Come in for a $1 coffee,’ and at lunch you have a picture of a Big Mac.”
Changing an ad isn’t exactly instantaneous, but it is fast, said Jodi Senese, chief marketing officer at CBS Outdoor, which owns 17 digital billboards in New Jersey.
“Most often changes go through a gatekeeper system,” she said. “We’re looking for anything that might be inappropriate, but generally advertisers can change them hourly.”
CBS Outdoor is the largest U.S. seller of outdoor advertising in terms of billings, according to the OAAA. It put up its first digital board in 2009 along the ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel.
That board along with three others near the tunnel have become the most expensive digital ad space CBS Outdoor offers in the New Jersey market, commanding $15,000 for a standard 4-week campaign.
On the other end of the spectrum, an advertiser targeting South Jersey consumers with an ad on a single board along a local road might pay $700 to run an 8-second spot for a month.
The lack of production costs and ability to react in real time has been a huge selling point for smaller companies. In fact, they buy more digital ads than national brands.
“If your trading zone were in Camden and that’s where you know you draw most of your customers, you opt for the digital board that’s three-quarters of a mile away on a secondary thoroughfare,” Hall said. “Not the one that’s eight miles away on the Turnpike. Then more of your audience sees it, takes note of it and, you hope, acts on it.”