July 2019


Digital billboard by LKDN and Blip

by George Taniwaki

If you want to gain attention of people outside your social circle, you need to get your message in front of strangers. One way to do this is to use billboard advertising. Billboard advertising, also called outdoor advertising or out-of-home advertising, can be expensive. It is also impersonal. However, it can generate a lot of impressions and can generate additional word-of-mouth or news publicity.

Every form of publicity you create should have a call for action. It should include a URL, phone number, or email address. In the example billboard at the top of this blog post, note the short URL that points to the Living Kidney Donor Network and includes the patient’s first name. It’s easy to remember and the LKDN web page can contain additional information to help potential donors learn more about you and the donation process.

Do-it-yourself billboard

If you own a billboard or know someone who does, you can paint your own billboard. A do-it-yourself billboard is pretty uncommon, but I found one case (Kidney Dialysis News, Dec 2013).


Example of hand-painted billboard

Rent a static billboard

More likely, you don’t own your own billboard and so will have to rent one. The most common type of billboard is static. The image is printed on paper or canvas and will remain in the billboard until it is manually covered by a new sign.

There are two costs to consider when renting a billboard. First is the up-front costs for design and production. This can range from free to a few hundred dollars. The second is the rental fee. The rental fee will be based on the amount of traffic that passes by the billboard and the scarcity of billboard space in the area where you want to place your sign. You will want to compare the total cost per impression of a billboard versus the other activities you are employing to find a donor. For a good primer on measuring advertising and publicity effectiveness, see Real Numeracy Sep 2019.

All billboard companies provide design services. If you want to do your own design work or hire your own designer, ask the billboard company for the dimensions of their billboards. Also ask for the required resolution for artwork and what file format the artwork should be delivered in. Check if they accept RGB color PDF files or require CMYK color.

For smaller billboards, the images are printed on a 27” x 40” sheet of paper. Multiple sheets can be tiled to produce larger images. Larger billboards are usually printed on 10-foot wide sheets of canvas using a special ink jet printer. Again, larger images are created by tiling sheets.

Additional benefit of a billboard

There is another impact that a billboard can generate. Your effort could get picked up by a local TV station or newspaper where an even larger audience will see it. I found several stories about billboards used to find kidney donors on the web. A few are reproduced below along with links to the news stories they were contained in.


PaulBillboard  RandyBillboardJoshuaBillboardMandieBillboardMirandaBillboard

Eight examples of static billboards that got in the news

First row: Tracy (from WBIR-TV, Apr 2016), Jacob (from WKYC-TV, Apr 2019), Jessica (from WDJT-TV, Apr 2018)

Second row:  Paul (from NY Daily News, Jul 2015), Randy (from Atlanta J. Const., Oct 2017)

Third row: Joshua (from USA Today, May 2018), Mandie (from ABC News, Apr 2018), Miranda (from Daily Item, Apr 2016)

Mobile billboards

In urban areas, billboard space is limited. One option to overcome that is to put signage on the side of a truck or attach it to a trailer being towed by a truck or car or even a bicycle. This is different than putting a sign on the side of your own car or truck, which is discussed in a separate blog post (Real Numeracy, Aug 2019).


Example mobile billboard for Kidney Car, from Kidney Foundation of Canada

Rent time on a digital billboards

The latest advance in billboard advertising is digital signage. A digital billboard, like a web display ad, does not require the expense of a physically printed image. It can be placed on any billboard in the world that participates in the digital billboard network. Your ad can be displayed for any length of time on any date or day-of-week and time-of-day you desire.

Your ad will run for 10 second increments that cost between 1 cent to a dollar, depending on the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic expected. Most traditional billboard companies like Lamar and Clear Channel have digital options. There are also digital-only companies like Blip. (In advertising parlance each 10 second increment is called a blip.)

Donor billboard

Finally, below is an example of a billboard promoting living donation without a specific patient in mind. The billboard is sponsored by TransplantFirst Academy, an organization started by Risa Simon, the author of the book Shift your Fate.


Donor billboard from TransplantFirst Academy


Westbound on Evan at Santa Fe. Photo by James Taniwaki

by George Taniwaki

Take a look at the intersection above of two busy streets in Denver. The photo was taken from the left-hand turn lane of westbound W. Evan Av. turning to southbound S. Santa Fe Dr. From this angle you cannot see the on-ramp you are turning onto. It is obscured by a concrete jersey barrier.

In fact, the end of the barrier is separate from the rest of it. One gets the impression that it was originally connected to the rest of barrier but was accidentally hit, forcing it to be perpendicular to the remaining section. This creates the illusion that there is no road behind it, and you should turn left before the barrier, not after.

If you do turn left into the lane on the east side of the barrier, then you will be headed the wrong direction into oncoming traffic on Santa Fe Dr. This is really dangerous.


Synthetic aerial view of same intersection. Image from Google Maps

A better view of the intersection can be seen using the 3D tilt view feature of Google Maps. Looking at the synthetic aerial view, one can see that the intersection is directly over Santa Fe Dr. This allows large volumes of traffic to flow without taking up a lot of real estate. This configuration is called a single-point diamond interchange.

Two changes would probably make this intersection safer. First, the end of the jersey barrier should be a continuous piece of rounded concrete, not jagged, so the user can imagine there is a traffic lane behind the barrier. Second, the barrier should be set back about 3m (10’) so that a driver in the left-hand turn lane can clearly see there is a paved surface beyond the barrier before entering the intersection.

I don’t know how many accidents happen at this intersection and I don’t know how the state of  Colorado measures the social costs of traffic accidents. But if there are ten accidents (some with injuries) per year here, and the lifespan of the interchange is twenty years, then it is probably worth spending the one million dollars I estimate it would cost to make the suggested modifications to this intersection.

[Update: There was a paragraph here describing a fatal accident on Santa Fe and Dartmouth involving a driver going the wrong direction. However, that accident is unlikely to have been caused by a driver entering the highway at Santa Fe and Evans. I have deleted the paragraph.]