I have lots of friends who make their living in advertising; I myself live off of it, indirectly. But nonetheless, I hate it by in large, and I always looked forward to time that new media would at least marginalize the extent of billboards and their visual pollution. Not even close. A new technology is adding the one thing that billboards have lacked: demographic data.
For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.
Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by—their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.
I’m thinking that this will mean crazier and crazier billboards in every nook of big cities like NYC—big companies will see that the same demographics of a glossy magazine are available on select corners, on the cheap. And they’ll respond by simply plastering ads on every inch of downtown New York that’s still naked.
An editor of mine once told me his job was to “make something that kept the ads from sticking together.” Now, perhaps the goal of every business on every street corner could be seen as providing a pleasant interlude between “ad impressions”?