How Smart Billboards Are Revolutionizing Outdoor Advertising

Digital technology is revolutionizing billboard advertising. Digital billboards generate high recall rates and positive reactions, a Nielsen survey shows. Seventy-five percent of consumers who travel roadways with digital billboards can recall seeing one within the past month, and 55 percent of those can recall the sign’s message most of the time or every time they pass by.

Some advertising agencies are taking advantage of these numbers by combining billboards with smart technology that interacts with passersby. Here are some ways smart technology is making billboard advertising even more effective.

How Smart Billboards Work

Early smart billboards combined hidden miniature cameras and computer databases. Cameras gathered images for the computer to analyze the subject’s gender and age, and an ad was displayed based on the results.

This technology has continued to advance. Advertising innovators have begun combining smart billboards with big data analytics tools that draw information from social media to adjust ads. For instance, if Twitter indicates there is a basketball game in the area, a billboard showing a FedEx ad might switch to a Nike ad.

Recent Developments

The latest smart billboard technology uses smartphone tracking to adjust ads based on information gathered from passing phones. For instance, if an iPhone user walks past an Apple Store, he or she might receive a text message offering a deal on an iPad. This is similar to the technology that location analytics providers such as Euclid Analytics are using to help retailers track customers in stores.

As wearables such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear grow more popular, advertisers are extending location analytics applications to wearable users, and smart billboards are expected to follow suit. The startup MeU is even turning wearables themselves into walking billboards by using LED lights to create ads that are visible through interactive clothes.

Targeting Drivers

Car manufacturers are the early adopters of smart billboard technology. In partnership with OOh Media, Porsche launched the world’s first interactive billboard campaign in Australia in January 2015. It uses image recognition software to detect Porsches and display a company ad saying, “It’s so easy to pick you out in a crowd.” Lexus followed suit later in the month with a similar but more sophisticated Australian ad campaign. It used an algorithm to match vehicle information with environmental information, such as local traffic and weather conditions, to generate 80 variations of the same ad.


Porsche is teaming up with video surveillance software manufacturer Milestone Systems and IBM Analytics to deliver targeted billboard ads to specific vehicle models on their way to Australia’s Melbourne airport. These smart billboard software applications do not yet identify specific drivers, but Sydney University of Technology professor Jim Macnamara says that is coming soon.

In the United States, some smart billboard ads are targeting drivers based on speed. For instance, in 2014, Cisco used a billboard near San Francisco International Airport to promote its Cisco Live event by delivering messages of varying length, with faster drivers getting shorter messages.

Targeting Pedestrians

Other smart billboards target pedestrians. For instance, Ogilvy France has promoted IBM’s Smart Ideas for Smarter Cities campaign by creating billboards that are integrated with benches, awnings and ramps. Russian food sellers have bypassed embargoed imported food bans by creating smart signs that change their displays when the camera detects police approaching.

In New York City, digital marketing agency 360i is helping Canon reach social media photo enthusiastswith smart billboards that give 200 different photography tips based on real-time weather conditions, traffic updates and social media buzz. For instance, attendees at a Billy Joel concert received messages about how to shoot a concert picture.

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