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Signs of the times

Quick quiz: Name a social-media campaign had that made an impression on you. Now name a television ad. Now name a radio ad. Name a print ad. Now a billboard.

If you’re anything like me, that quiz got progressively trickier as it went along. By the time I got to billboards, I had a hard time coming up with one that wasn’t a gag from “The Simpsons.” Signs are flat, lifeless and dull. Yet David Spark argues they may someday be the only offline ads we pay any attention to — since they tend to appear in places where we simply cannot avoid them, such as highways and bus stops. But is just being visible enough any more?

We’re still a long way from personalized signs like the ones in “Minority Report,” but that doesn’t mean signs have to go on being low-yield, passive touts that we barely remember two seconds later. Rather, I think signs (along with print, broadcast, and other offline ads) need to be retargeted to reflect the higher level of engagement online ads offer. They need to become support ads.

Instead of existing in a bubble,  your offline ads should be offering support to your online presence. I’m not just talking about putting your URL on the bottom of the billboard, either. They need to be calls to action, focused on convincing consumers to engage you online. Your support ads need to be focused on moving customers toward a unified campaign. The social Web isn’t an excuse to do away with traditional advertising — but it is a good reason to start thinking about ways you can upgrade your existing efforts.

Are signs a total waste of time? How can businesses better integrate physical and virtual advertisements? Can anyone think of a really effective billboard?

Image credit, parema, via iStock