Digital Billboard 

click to enlarge street37_billboard_100.jpg

Three words: light emitting diode.

Though perhaps not likely to win approval from the nation's nonagenarian nemesis of neon, Lady Bird Johnson, a new LED-lighted billboard is attracting the attention of interstate drivers near the Philip Morris plant.

The billboard's received overwhelming support from both drivers and advertisers, says Claude Dorsey, a local sales manager for Lamar Advertising Co., the Baton Rouge-based advertising company that recently erected the sign.

"We were anticipating some people saying 'I'm not so sure about it,'" says Dorsey, who expected the company switchboard to field at least a few calls from drivers or angry aestheticists. Instead, he says the calls have been overwhelmingly positive. And the sign has been booked solid by advertisers since it went live four months ago.

There's no denying that the sign, which uses LED technology, is eye-catching. It looks like a giant plasma TV screen.

"We get calls from people just randomly saying 'I love it,'" Dorsey says. "It's a cool piece of technology."

It's also a possible beacon to the future of roadside advertising, with its thousands of tiny but intense pinpricks of light that together capture both photo-quality color and details to reproduce even complicated advertising layouts. Ad text — or even entire designs — can be changed daily via a high-speed Internet connection.

About all it doesn't do is run animation or video, something Dorsey says is not part of the plan.

"It's kind of the latest technology in the billboard business," says Dorsey, whose sales territory stretches from Fredericksburg to Hampton Roads. Since April, the 500 or so traditional painted or vinyl printed billboards in his territory have included two LED displays, the one in Richmond and the other in Newport News, near the Interstate 64 exit to Patrick Henry Mall.

Customers have included government agencies, home improvement companies, restaurants and car dealerships.

Although Dorsey declines to talk numbers, Lamar's initial investment to erect the sign is naturally higher than traditional billboards. According to industry reports, the LED signs generally cost between $300,000 and $500,000 apiece.

Ad space on the new billboards, which alternate every few seconds between as many as six different advertisers or messages, cost approximately the same as traditional billboard placements, Dorsey says — and "maybe a little less."

But there's a hitch. The colorful LED display can direct (or distract) drivers' eyes away from the road like skeeters to a giant bug zapper, especially at night.

But, so far, the new billboard on I-95 hasn't yet driven any drivers to dangerous distraction, says State Police spokesman Kevin Barrick. He says he knows of no calls complaining about the sign and no accidents attributable to LED-induced hypnosis. S

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