Sunday, January 4, 2009

Billboard Jungle

The holiday season is over, yet my Christmas tree is still up and will probably be up for another week or so. This is not out of design. Usually, I take the tree down sometime between New Year's day and the first day I have to go back to work. That didn't happen this year, mainly because of timing. My daughter went back to school this weekend. I drove her up to Stockton on Friday and then drove back home on Saturday. The drive and the lack of sleep because I was sleeping in a different environment took its toll and I ended up watching much of the Eagles win over the Vikings through the inside of my eyelids today. I woke up just when Donovan McNabb threw a nifty little screen pas to Brian Westbrook who took it 70+ yards for the deciding touchdown. So the tree didn't get taken down.

The road trip was rather uneventful. I drove, mainly because there was Tule fog in the big valley. It wasn't noteworthy or dangerous, and my daughter could have driven, but I like to drive. The last couple of hours she ended up napping in the car. What I really should have done was let her drive the middle two hours. But that didn't happen, so I was tired when we got to Stockton. She was actually amazed that I didn't stop even once to geocache. I figured since I was coming back down by myself, that I would get some caching in at that time, which is what happened.

On the drive up, I started looking at all the billboards at the side of the highway. Most of the time, I usually just tune them out, preferring to look at other things, abut there was something about this billboard that stated in no uncertain terms that "FOG KILLS" peaked my interest and I started looking at the billboards with a little more interest, at least for this trip.

America seems to have a seemingly unboundless interest in food. There were more billboards advertising restaurants than I could probably count, most of which were of the fast food variety. It makes sense to post those along the freeway. It seems like when we're driving, we always seem to be looking for a caffeine stop or a burger place to eat lunch. Have you ever noticed how many Starbucks stores there are? The joke in the movie Shrek II where one Farbucks store gets destroyed, so all the patrons run across the street to another Farbucks store seems rather appropriate. Have you also noticed when you're actually looking for a Starbucks store that you never can seem to find one? Driving down the road at 70+ mph, it becomes more difficult sometimes to determine if there is a place like that at this particular off ramp or not. So it seems that billboards indicating where a particular food product is located, or what exit to take seems to be an appropriate message.

What seems less so, is the billboards that have websites attached to them. What was the designer of that advertisement thinking when they decided to put the website of their company on a billboard knowing that almost everyone that sees it will be driving by so quickly that the entire sign is almost a blur anyway? "Oh look Martha, there's a website address on that billboard!!! We should look it up right now and see what great information it has for us!" I can't even imagine a conversation like that ever happening, but there were several billboards that had the website addresses on them for everyone traveling on Highway 99 in the central valley of California.

Now there were just as many billboards that didn't have websites posted on them, some of which are pictured here. I actually think what got this whole thing started was the Weeds Stop Here billboard. My daughter mentioned something about posting a billboard about Marijuana along a highway as being possibly inappropriate, but then she realized that it was about stopping weeds in farm crops. I'm not sure why, but I particularly liked the Apple Annies signs, plus the FOG KILLS signs. Those just stuck out in my mind as we drove along the freeway.

Just for fun, I started looking at some of the billboards and then asked my daughter to write down some of the websites for later. One of the first catch phrases I noticed, besides the FOG KILLS was one by the California Farm Water Coalition. They want the world to know that Food Grows Where Water Flows. I wonder who they paid and how much to someone to come up with that statement. Looking at their website, it's apparent they want everyone to be aware of possible water shortages in our state and how those shortages could affect food production in California. It even has a kids section complete with cartoons featuring Gigi Grapes, Kari Carrot, Callie Cotton and Randy Rice, not to mention Tommy Tomato and Jack Cheese.

Besides telling us all that FOG KILLS, the FOGUniversity billboards also had a website to get more information about fog. The site is still under construction so there's not really a whole lot of information there except links to places such as CalTrans and the California Highway Patrol. There is a media link that has a short video about driving in the fog. Once again, Father knows best and is driving too fast, much to the chagrin of his child who warns him that he's driving too fast. It ends with an implied collision caused because of excess speed and fog. Now if he'd just listened to his kid in the first place. Tule fog is a very dangerous thing in the central valley of California and according to Wikipedia it is the major cause of weather related accidents in California so I'm not trying to make light of this as much as I am trying to understand why an organization would go to the trouble of putting up a website and then say, "Oh come back, we're not ready for you yet." I think it would make more sense to get the website up and running, then post the information on the billboards.

Another catch phrase that had me wanting to know more about it was the Check before you Burn billboards that were placed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. It makes sense after looking at their websites what they were talking about since the San Joaquin Valley is a major agricultural area and there is a lot of burning that takes place after crops are harvested. I just found it a rather interesting message when first viewed.

Several other billboards that contained website addresses catered to our stomachs or our palates. Cacciatorre Fine Wines has an interesting website. It has two buttons on its splash page, one for those of us who are over 21 and one for the younger set. I checked both out. The over 21 set get to go right to the main page of the website, while the younger set get directed to I'm wondering if Cacciatore Wines gets a kickback from Disney for this arrangement?

The second billboard that I noticed a website on that was strictly food related was the Valley Pistachio Country Store. It has a nice looking website with a variety of information about what the country store sells. It also has a Recipe of the Month section, although that appears to have just started around the holidays since there is only two recipes and both require the use of cranberries either to make Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti or Pistachio Cranberry bark.

The last two billboards that I noticed website addresses on were the Three Crowns billboard and the Pixley RV Resort billboard. I have to admit when I was reading these websites to my daughter, I knew what most of them would be, but I wasn't sure about Three Crowns. It turns out that it's for an industrial complex located in Fresno, California. I wonder if 37 cents per square foot is a good rental price or not. The Pixley RV Resort is a recreational vehicle spot for travelers looking for a good place to park their RV for the night. Cost $29 per night, but there's a 10% discount if you come as a group and take at least 5 spots. I didn't notice how prominent the phone number was on the billboard, but in my mind, that would have made more sense to have in big numbers as opposed to the website address.

I guess the question I have for all these places is why. I realize that with all of our technology today websites are pretty much ubiquitous and a company that doesn't have a website is probably in the dark ages, but why post a website on a billboard? WiFi probably doesn't exist along the entire corridor however California does offer free WiFi at all of their rest stops. If the driver doesn't have a partner, it makes it unsafe for them to grab a pen and write down the website or even look it up on their Blackberry unless they pull over and that probably isn't the safest thing to do either along our highways as the shoulders of the road aren't always the widest.

The logical explanation to all of this is the billboards are generic, designed for areas where people can stop and write down the website addresses. It's probably cheaper overall to make one set of billboards as opposed to two different ones, one for city areas and one for highways corridors. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I can visualize in the future where cars will have receivers to grab information off of billboards. Drivers will just have to push a button on their steering wheel and the car will automatically download the website address from the billboard. At the next rest stop, the driver will be able to plug his or her computer or Blackberry into the car's USB port and upload the information. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I can market this and make my first million in the next ten years?

Pictures were taken by my daughter along Highway 99 between Bakersfield, California and Stockton, California.

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P.J. said...

I am a big billboard and sign nut. Looking at the ones you posted got me thinking of one I posted on my photo blog not too long ago: Eyes on the road.

I couldn't resist on that one. Had to stop and take a photo. Advertising is a wonderful tool!

A 'lil HooHaa

Webfoot said...

Yep. I can see where that kind of advertisement would catch your eye.

chaosmanor said...

"So it seems that billboards indicating where a particular food product is located, or what exit to take seems to be an appropriate message. What seems less so, is the billboards that have websites attached to them. What was the designer of that advertisement thinking when they decided to put the website of their company on a billboard knowing that almost everyone that sees it will be driving by so quickly that the entire sign is almost a blur anyway?"

Obviously your cell phone doesn't have a web browser attached. Mine does, and you know my thoughts about cell phones: in fact, about telephones in general. But having that browser has helped on a few occasions, as you well know; we got a hint on a cache in San Juan Capistrano with my cell phone's browser. I can easily see a couple driving down the freeway and one of them looks up the website while the other is driving. I can even see a solo driver doing it.

As for actually seeing the address, it is amazing what the human brain can remember if the owner takes even a small amount of time and effort to train it. I can go on errands and remember the prices at a dozen or more gas stations, for logging on the gas price websites I use. I prefer to use a piece of paper, but sometimes I forget to bring a piece along; my Civic has a stack of scratch paper, but Sharon's Altima doesn't. Of course, there's my PDA, in which it is pretty easy to jot a quick note, such as a URL.

I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit, Webfoot; you probably could see several of those billboards with URLs on them, and remember them all, or at least the name of the company: enough info to Google it, anyway. And that's really all that the company is asking for: that you remember that there *is* a website for it. If you are at all interested, you'll find the site; the 'net isn't very well organized, but it has some fairly-decent retrieval tools. Actually, maybe you *did* give yourself enough credit; you certainly managed to work through a lot of websites. See? It wasn't that hard ;-) Sure, you had your daughter along to help, but I bet you could have gotten most of those on your own.

The variety of billboards is amazing, and the CV is a good place for them, as there isn't a lot of real scenery. I hate seeing big billboards along the 101 north of Santa Rosa, as they just muck up the view, but between Bakersfield and Fresno, what else is there to look at? Cows? Silos? Whooppee. On various trips I've wanted to stop at Apple Annie's, but never have made the time. There are several of those "Food Grows Where Water Flows" signs within a couple of miles of home, but Ventura County is almost as much an agricultural county as Madera or Kings Counties are, or at least used to be; lots of housing development going on in the CV.

Commercial kickbacks for click-throughs? You bet! Back before the bubble burst, that was how the Web financed itself, in large part. Or that was how it was supposed to go, but rarely did as well as it was intended to, which is one big reason why that bubble went "pop". I'm sure that Disney pays the winery a few pennies for every time someone hits that button. It's a lot cheaper than advertising on TV, and they *know* that the clicker wants to go there.

37 cents a sq. ft. sounds like a great price for industrial space, but remember the adage: location, location, location. How many national businesses really *want* to locate in Fresno?

Still and all, you ask a good question, and I would tend to agree that a phone number in larger characters than the URL makes sense. Except for characters like me, who hate using telephones :-p And far too often, companies do a terrible job of customer service over a phone, but do a bang-up job on their website. Go figure; I don't understand why this is, but I certainly prefer to write out a question and e-mail it than try to explain to some poorly-trained, minimum-wage flunky what I'm wanting info on. As for your million-dollar idea, I suspect that someone has already thought of it and is working on it. It wouldn't be hard to do. Maybe you should send a certified letter to ClearChannel or another big billboard company, and see what their response is; you never know...

P.J.: that one's pretty funny :-D Gotta love the sense of humor!

chaosmanor said...

BTW: great tags at the end!! How did you get it to display five different ones like that? I'm really a tech-know-nothing with all of the stuff like that.

Webfoot said...

If you go to your account page at, there is a link for My stats bar. Click on that. You can customize your bar with any kind of saying. If you look back, you'll see that each of my blogs, with a couple of exceptions have a different tagline/stat bar on it. I just put the saying in and then copied the html code for the blog page and just did it in quintuplicate for this one.