Though they’ve been updated with digital signage and customizable messages, there’s still something anachronistic about seeing an old-fashioned billboard on the side of a major highway. However, one of the country’s largest billboard operators has a plan to bring the rectangular advertising opportunities into the 21st century — whether consumers are OK with it or not.
The New York Times reported that Clear Channel Outdoor Americas launched a program on Monday (Feb. 29) that sees it starting to track travelers’ data through interactions with mobile phones and installed cameras via its thousands of billboards across the country. With AT&T as an official partner, Clear Channel will start to track what people are being exposed to on their billboards at specific times and in specific situations — and whether they interact with the brands in question as a result of that exposure.
Andy Stevens, senior vice president for research and insights at Clear Channel Outdoor, told NYT that while consumers may have some misgivings about the privacy implications of the decision, the potential benefits for marketers outweighs the theoretical harm.
“In aggregate, that data can then tell you information about what the average viewer of that billboard looks like,” Stevens said. “Obviously, that’s very valuable to an advertiser.”
Though Clear Channel manages billboards in every state in the country, it’ll be rolling out its new IoT-inspired program, which it’s calling “RADAR,” to just the top 11 markets. That group includes Los Angeles and New York, though the company acknowledged that it would prefer to have RADAR up and running through the U.S. by year’s end.
Digital privacy experts have criticized Clear Channel’s plan to turn the country’s billboards into yet another avenue for advertisers to trawl for consumers’ information, but if advertisers can make it worth the average person’s time to opt into submitting their personal information, history has shown that he or she is usually happy to do so.