The best way to pass the time on a long car trip used to be billboard-watching.
My parents took me on many a cross-country ride as a child. This was before the days of onboard DVD players, sophisticated handheld video game consoles and tablet computers. So my brother and I would wile away the hours either reading books or reading billboards. We were particularly on the lookout for Cracker Barrel signs and special attractions ads, like Ron Jon Surf Shop and Wall Drug. My eyes are drawn to billboards to this day.
So it was with interest that I listened to a debate last week about whether the Tybee Island Tourism Council should spend marketing dollars on billboard advertising.
Board members politely argued both sides. One frequent interstate traveler noted the large number of vacant billboard along the I-95 corridor and how he didn’t believe billboard advertising was particularly effective in the digital age.
Billboard proponents, many of them hotel operators, made the case that billboard ads do impact impulse traffic. Even if only .5 percent of the motorists that pass Savannah along I-95 decide to make a side trip to Tybee – drawn by billboards – the island would attract an additional 300 visitors a day.
One noted that in the years since Tybee last did an interstate billboard his walk-in business has taken a big hit. Tybee halted its billboard campaign several years ago when the recession cut the marketing budget.
Return on investment is the crux of the argument. It is difficult to measure the impact of billboard advertising. Major billboard advertisers like Ron Jon and, of course, South of the Border, have seen tremendous returns. But they buy enough billboards to saturate the motorist. Leasing a billboard costs in excess of $1,000 a month. So Tybee could only afford to rent a few.
It will be interesting to see what Tybee tourism officials elect to do. They decided in the meeting to research potential billboard spots and prices.
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