how billboard advertising started

History of Billboard Advertising

The first billboards were invented in the 1830s. They became a popular form of advertising in the 1860s. Then, as the 19th century came to a close, the proper format of a billboard was defined and their popularity skyrocketed.

history of billboard advertisements

In the 1830s, a man named Jared Bell created some of the very first billboards. These billboards advertised circus acts like Barnum And Bailey. The billboards were often large posters, displaying colorful pictures. They emphasized unique features and promotional elements for each of their upcoming shows. 

The 1860s saw a major shift in billboard advertising. Businesses were able to purchase outdoor space to utilize for billboard display. Soon enough, advertisers began taking advantage of the new laws and regulations, setting up different billboards and experimenting with their own forms and creatives. They were often hand-drawn or hand-painted and labor-intensive. 

Two things happened in the last four decades of the 19th century:

  1. Billboards became more popular, which led to the founding of various billboard associations. Some of the most famous from this period was The International Bill Posters Association and the Associated Bill Posters’ Association. They helped launch billboard advertising, as a concept, nationwide.
  2. As these associations became more prominent, standards for billboard advertising began to subtly change. In 1889, the Paris Expo revealed the first-ever twenty-four sheet billboard. That twenty-four sheet format became the standard format for billboards everywhere.  
  • Jared Bell created some of the first billboards for famous circus acts in the 1830s
  • Nw legislation allowed advertisers to purchase outdoor space for advertising purposes in the 1860s
  • The International Bill Posters Association and Associated Bill Posters’ Association  introduced billboards to other advertisers
  • The first twenty-four sheet billboard was shown at the Paris Expo, and then the World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • This twenty-four sheet format became the standard billboard

When Billboards Took Over Advertising

a history of billboards and signs

The Model T was one of the first affordable cars. It changed the United States, and ushered in an era of cheap, low-cost manufacturing. As more people became reliant on cars, roads and highways were soon built to support them. Soon enough, advertisers realized that setting up billboards on roads and highways was an excellent advertising strategy.

After the introduction of the Model T, cars quickly became the main form of transportation. Older methods of transportation railroads and horses, mainly became a secondary option. 

Due to this influx of cars, cities were forced to adapt their infrastructure to accommodate the growing automobile market. This lead to the creation of better roads and highways. Shortly after, advertisers realized that this would become prime advertising real estate.

While billboards were always a popular form of advertising throughout the 20th century, it wasn’t until the creation of the Interstate Highway System that billboards became extraordinarily successful. The Interstate Highway System — a system that connects the different states together through safe and efficient roads, spanning 49,000 miles — was a goldmine of display opportunities. 

history of billboard advertising

Hundreds of businesses used this method of advertising to their advantage. Most of these businesses set up conventional billboards. But, there were other businesses for example, Burma Shave, Coca-Cola, and Palmolive that realized that by designing humorous and captivating signs, you could entertain bored drivers.

  • The popularity of the first cars, Model T, lead to the development of better roads and highways
  • Advertisers realized that these roads and highways could be used to set up billboards
  • The Interstate Highway System lead to billboards becoming one of the most popular forms of advertising
  • Businesses started using billboards to create advertisements that entertained drivers

The Highway Beautification Act

history of billboard advertising

The placement of billboards on the Interstate Highway System was largely unregulated. There were very few restrictions regarding the size, spacing, placement, and design. This lack of regulation changed in 1965.

The Interstate Highway System brought a great deal of prosperity to the billboard industry. Billboards were extremely popular, and the businesses and products they were advertising even more.

In 1965, the Highway Beautification Act was passed. The Highway Beautification Act set limitations on the number of billboards that could be placed along highways, as well as regulations on factors such as size, spacing, and lighting.

While some in the industry thought that this would put an end to billboards, it didn’t. Instead, billboard designs complied with the newly formed regulations. 

  • The Interstate Highway System and the placement of billboards was largely unregulated
  • This changed in 1965 when the Highway Beautification Act was passed
  • Advertisers were forced to comply with various regulations regarding spacing, size, and lighting
  • Billboards remained popular, but they had to change and develop in order to comply with these new regulations

The Future of Billboard Advertising

Today, billboards still comprise a large percentage of the advertising market. Instead of going with traditional billboards, though, advertisers are using digital methods. Digital billboards bring less work and fewer overhead costs while delivering a more vivid and engaging form of advertising.

digital billboard advertising

To some, billboards are seen as a “relic of the past”. For advertisers, though, this is far from the truth. As of today, billboards comprise 66% of the “out of home” advertising market. Many of these billboards are digital.

Digital billboards require less work than traditional billboards. They also offer more possibilities for creativity and experimentation.

Instead of shipping an advertisement to a billboard company weeks in advance, all that’s needed is a file. If you want to experiment with different creatives and ideas including, colors, fonts, styles and sound effects for your advertisement, you can do so easily. If something doesn’t work out, simply press a few buttons to make desired changes.

Along with that, digital billboards and other outdoor media are starting to integrate sensors and cameras. These allow for more dynamic and engaging advertisements that directly interface with whoever is viewing the ad.

While the billboard advertising form will continue to shift and change, one thing is certain: billboards are here to stay. 

  • Billboards still comprise a significant portion of the advertising market
  • The traditional billboard was replaced with their digital counterparts
  • Digital billboards require less maintenance than traditional billboards
  • Sensors and cameras are being used to create interactive ads

Billboard Advertising in Puerto Rico

history of billboard advertising

bMedia is a Puerto Rico local outdoor media company specializing in billboard advertising. While we’ve come a long way since hand-painted signage and extremely labor-intensive displays, we are happy to continue servicing one of the oldest forms of advertising. This advertising strategy has been proven and methodically implemented for companies across the nation. We offer our support and creativity for businesses exclusive to Puerto Rico. Contact us for pricing and additional information.

Rum Ads

Vintage Rum Ads from Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is well known for being one of the finest producing islands of rum in the world. Combine that with that fact that alcohol advertising, in general, has always been a very competitive and creative space and you’ve got a very interesting space for advertising. Over the years there have been a large number of rum companies who have tried to make an impact on the industry.

As advertising has switched to a digital medium we often miss the simpler times of advertising where had drawn art and creativity were crucial.  We’ve put together some of our favorite rum ads from a variety of different companies, some that still exist today and some that didn’t make the cut. Regardless of how they faired in business, they did a great job at making some very cool retro rum ads.

Learn more about why billboards are so effective

Ron Rico

  • Started: 1935
  • City: Arecibo
  • Status: Active

Vintage RonRico Ads

Ron Merito

  • Started: 1946
  • City: Arecibo
  • Status: No Longer in Production

Vintage Rum Ads Merito

Riondo Rum

  • Started: 1941
  • City: N/A
  • Status: No Longer in Production

Vintage Riondo Rum Ads

Don Q Rum

  • Started: 1865
  • City: Ponce
  • Status: Active

Don Q Vintage Rum Ads

 Extra: Christopher Columbus Rum (From Dominican Republic)

  • Started: 1930
  • City: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • Company: Barceló
  • Status: Active

Christopher Columbus Vintage Rum Ads

Whether we like it or not, advertising has changed significantly since the rise of computers and the Internet. Decades ago, it was a far simpler time for companies looking to try and get their message across. Radio, outdoor media, newspapers, magazines, and eventually TV advertisements were the preferred options where businesses would spend their advertising dollars. From social media to Google Adwords the online world’s impact on the industry have changed the game forever. As consumers are inundated with ads nearly every minute of the day, it often becomes a game of quantity versus quality in advertisements. While this is a reality that we just have to accept. We hope these rum ads took you back to the good old days of advertising for a little while.

Mixing Advertising Mediums

Relate to your Audience – Classic Puerto Rican Commercials

How successful is your advertising? Do you even have a strategy?

Most companies do, but there are quite a few who don’t do it correctly. And the truth is, a little mistake can put you out of business, but a minor correction can drive your sales through the roof. It all comes down to relating to your audience so you can give them what they want. Do you feel confident that your company does that?

Advertising Strategy Puerto Rico

The Point of Advertising

There are many different reasons for advertising, but the ultimate goal of doing it is to increase the amount of money that your company makes. However, there are a lot of different ways to go about it. The simplest example is trying to convince customers to stop what they’re doing and go pay for your product or service. A more complex idea is building up a specific image around your brand that will influence the decisions potential customers will make in the future, and this often is done in a way that patiently waits until they are ready to get out their wallets – then it swoops in and makes the sale.

The thing to know is that you can try as many of these different types of strategies as you want, but they are only going to work if you remember to do the most important thing:  get the attention of specific customers.

Picking a Target Audience

Before being able to relate to your audience, you have to decide who they are. You can narrow them down by age, income level, interests, or a number of other factors. One of the best ways of doing it is to really think about the product or service that you are offering. Who does it solve a problem for? Once you know the answer to that question, try to figure out more about these people. It helps to know where and when they shop, how much money they make, whether your offering is a necessity or a luxury item, and other similar concepts.

Once you’ve figured this out, you’re ready to make your advertisement. You know who your customers are, why they need your product, and where and when they’ll give you their money. Now, it’s as simple as making sure that your ad speaks their language.

Puerto Rico Advertising

Risks of Not Choosing the Correct Audience

Unfortunately, narrowing it down to the exact type of customer can be difficult. Also, many managers are afraid of excluding larger groups because they think it will lose overall sales. But, advertising to smaller groups almost always leads to larger profits! This is because generic advertisements that are aimed at getting the attention of everyone tend to backfire. They ultimately get ignored by all the different groups, and their money ends up going to other companies. However, targeting a specific group means it will be more noticed and the message will get across more successfully.

What Does This Have to Do with Puerto Rico?

Most of this is known by successful business managers, but what does it have to do with Puerto Rico? Well, a lot. If you’re operating your business on the island, you will have to decide who your market is.  If you’re part of a big international brand, it can sometimes be enough to simply localize the advertising strategy in a way that pulls in Puerto Rican culture. In this case, basically the target audience is the locals, and that has narrowed it down from everyone else on the planet. The overall strategy will have already figured out how to position itself for the right types of people. Use the local lingo, show Puerto Ricans, and mix the music.

On the other hand, if you’re simply a local company, you might have to distinguish between yourself and other similar businesses on the island. This is where it helps to have a small and defined target audience.

Mixing Advertising Mediums

Mixing Types of Advertising

Another important thing to note is that it’s important to mix different types of advertising. You want to reach your targets where they are, so you can target teenagers on Facebook, but probably not their grandparents. But, it usually works best to use a few different channels. An online video can educate them about your product, a billboard can remind them every day on their way to work, and a sale can get them through the door.

Classic Puerto Rican Commercials

If you want more examples of what the purpose of this is all about, just think about some of your favorite ads that you’ve seen. There are plenty of classic commercials that have done well over time. Here are a few examples of favorites from the past, do you remember them?

Who Is Your Audience?

So, do you know who your audience is? Are you ready to reach them? Give us a call, and we’ll make sure your billboard becomes a valuable part of influencing your customers.