The very first billboards were invented in the US by Jared Bell in the 1830s, becoming a prominent advertising method in the 1860s. The popularity of billboard’s increased abruptly later on in the 1800s, resulting in the formation of several billboard associations. However, researchers have discovered that the first billboards date back to the Ancient Egyptians, though not for the purpose of advertising.
From hand-drawn signs to phone box advertising, billboards have come a long way over the years.
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The First Billboards
In the early stages, billboards were commonly used to inform travelers on horseback or on foot that there was a nearby inn within distance.
However, the first case of billboard advertising came in 1835, when Jared Bell wanted to promote some circus events, and so decided to design and erect large, colourful billboards which displayed these events. They were often huge posters with colourful imagery and bold text on them which showcased the details and advertising for the upcoming circus acts.
A Rise in Popularity
Businesses were able to purchase outdoor space in the 1860s for use of billboard displays. Advertisers were quick to take advantage of these advertising regulations, immediately erecting various billboards with promotions. These billboards would be drawn or painted on by hand in most cases.
When the very first twenty-four sheet billboard was unveiled at the 1889 Paris Expo, this would go on to become the standard format for all billboards worldwide.
20th Century Boom in Billboards
Large advertisers began mass-producing billboards for the national market, using clear, large bold graphics and photos to advertise. With regulation still in place today, the application of filling open boards with public service advertisements started in 1913.
Cities were obliged to adjust their infrastructure to meet the rising vehicle market in the early 1900s as a result of the inundation and rise of cars. Advertisers soon realised that new and improved roads and highways would become great advertising real estate, which proved correct when billboards became extremely successful for advertisers when the motorway network was constructed in the UK, and the Interstate Highway System was established in the US.
Computer Print – Out with the old – In with the new
Traditional hand designed and painted billboards were soon replaced with computer painted advertising forms as digital technology became more prevalent in the 1990s. This technology allowed billboards and other forms of marketing to be designed digitally and then oriented out onto any format. Computer printed advertising also allowed billboards to be more durable and creative. Soon taxis, buses, bus shelters, airports, and retail displays were among the many locations to place the new billboard format.
Digital Days – The Future of Billboards
Billboards still account for a significant portion of marketing, with digital advertising methods taking its place. Digital billboards allow mobile imagery, videos, and even multiple promotions to be displayed.
While presenting a more colourful and engaging form of advertising, digital billboards require less labour and have lower overhead expenses. All that is required is a file, rather than having to ship an advertisement billboard to a business weeks in advance.