I was recently reading On Advertising by David Ogilvy, and came across an interesting passage in the second to last chapter of the book.
“Highways with billboards have three times as many accident as highways with billboards. President Eisenhower said, ‘I am against those billboards that mar our scenery, but I don’t know what I can do about it’. In California, Governor Pat Brown said, ‘When a man throws a cigarette package from an automobile, he is liable to a fine of $50. When a man throws a billboard across a view, he is richly rewarded’”
It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that this was written by an advertising icon more than 30 years ago.
While I’m sure Ogilvy would be even more horrified by the dangers of texting and driving, the fact remains that no one enjoys billboards. So why are they still around?
Ogilvy goes on to explain why billboards aren’t going anywhere.
“The billboard lobby shrewdly puts many legislators in its debt by giving them free space during election time. The lobby is savage against the legislator who dares oppose it by favoring anti-billboard laws. It subsidizes his opposition, foments political trouble in his home district, donates billboards to his opponents...”
The fact that billboards continue to exist is not hard to understand once you realize the Highway Beautification Act is still in place, more than 50 years after being signed by LBJ. The act allows billboards to be erected in any commercial or industrial area adjacent to interstate and federal-aid primary highways, with lax guidelines as to what constitutes commercial/industrial activity. LBJ later realized the bill’s shortcomings, it was meant to remove junkyards from the sight of drivers, but the damage was done.
“This damn billboard lobby has run this country," Johnson said in a telephone call in 1968, three years after passage of the Highway Beautification Act. "I never seen such a goddam group of selfish, eager hogs. They won't even let people sit down and try to reason with 'em."
Billboards are an eyesore that few people pay attention to and no one wants. Everyone is sick of having advertisements shoved down their throats, prompting the shift away from TV to streaming services like Netflix and HBO Go.
Some folks are trying to do something about it, but unfortunately, this issue falls near the bottom of many folks’ priority list.
At least now you’re aware. Here’s to another gross lobby manipulating our elected officials and ruining our views.
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