Roadside Observations: Population moves and a sign of the times

So I was doing a little bit of travel over the holidays and got to see a good bit of the back roads country and survey roadside advertising. The quality, product mix and “vacancy rates” appeared to have changed from what I historically remember. Although I will say that promotional messaging for empty billboards is getting much better. The other interesting thing is the use of “shared space” appears to be up for billboards….

Billboards may be a bellwether for the state of the economy and represent a great part of the cultural landscape which I like to appreciate. I originally wrote myself a note on this topic last week, but was reminded of the concept by Vaguery on twitter, who in real life is Bill and blogs over @ Notional Slurry. Economic trends and perceptions of the economy impact individual, local and regional buying behaviors and how marketers appeal to buyers.

Vaguery’s tweet of “…considering the likelihood of any Michigander doing real five-figure cookery” seemed to align with billboards, data and articles I’ve been reading/seeing, such as the USA Today piece I read over my free continental breakfast the other day. So things are changing – spend patterns, the movement of people and general open market activities.

The USA article spoke of the current housing woes and how they impact population movement. “Michigan hard hit by cutbacks in the auto industry and other manufacturing sectors” has seen population decline and housing value declines ahead of the rest of the nation. This was unscientifically verified as I drove around and saw more for sale signs than I think I have ever seen.

At the most basic level, demographic changes impact market dynamics – specifically how people market and what they market.  With a more granular look at the population shift, by state, it becomes evident that Michigan and RI are seeing a different level of change than other markets.



With the change in the economy and population, the roadside marketing landscape has changed as well since general investment patterns change from all key constituents segments – government, national brands and local SMBs. This change appears to be visible in the current billboard mix being mainly casino oriented in Detroit – no longer automotive/manufacturing innovation related.   The overall billboard content also appears to be on a different level of creative quality as well, not just the type of advertiser. I was able to find the following billboard just outside Lansing in Portland, Michigan which is an example of the changing billboard landscape throughout Michigan.





I’m glad I’m not in billboard advertising with a weakening dollar, tempered consumer confidence and the apparent need for cheap pepper spray as a stocking stuffer.

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