Modern ‘In Your Face’ Advertising Issues


With the advent of TIVO, VCR’s, and DVD’s, businesses have had a harder time reaching their potential customer base. These businesses have begun to search out new ways (or old) to reach potential customers. TIVO’s greatest sale point is that customers can tune out commercials or other types of advertising. VCR’s and DVD’s offer the customer the opportunity to watch desired programs without advertisements. Sure, DVD’s have advertising in the beginning of the run of the DVD. But, customers can move past advertisements with a click of their remote.

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Often radio listeners (especially in automobiles) have preset several desired radio stations on their radios. When advertising pops up on the radio station the listeners go through their preset choices to find a station not in commercial mode. This is a good example of how people do not care to listen to advertisements via radio.

Advertising is something customers don’t want. Advertisers will use whatever possible to reach their potential customer base. Billboards are one method used. This in your face advertising is effective but not wanted by many. It is the contention of this paper that people do not want this in your face advertising.

Out of Home Advertising

Some believe that advertising creates a materialistic and deceptive environment that perpetuates stereotypes (Behrens 655-660). People are bombarded with clothing styles, and other must have items that are required to be ‘in style’ within their peer group. Billboards are used by advertisers to reach their desired target market.

In the home families are exposed to advertising via television, radio, and printed materials. An individual can choose not to view advertising in the home (hard, but possible). When an individual leaves their home they are bombarded with advertising found on just about any flat surface available. “All sorts of space becomes target media for companies eager to get their message across” (Kim, S-1). In New York City advertisements are found just about everywhere to include phone kiosks, subway station walls, and subway trains as well.

Individuals should have a choice about what they view. In New York individuals are hard pressed to not be influenced by the advertisements all around them from the time they leave their homes to when they reach their homes in the evening. Ads in New York ask such questions as: Fired?, Out of Work?… These ads are “an example of how an advertiser can now buy a package of out-of-home media” (Kim, S-1). These type of packages are designed to help businesses capture a segment of the population lost when people could choose for themselves whether or not to view advertising on television.

Fit For All Viewers

A major problem with out-of-home advertising is that it often overlooks the fact that the advertisement is viewable by all segments of the population. Often, advertisements are appropriate for one segment of the population but inappropriate for another. The question that arises is should billboard advertisements be censored?

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In Minneapolis officials took advertising for the Fox series “The Street” off the billboards. The billboards showed the “cleavage of a woman wearing an opened man’s shirt in a manner the station found too casual even for Fridays” (Triggoboff, 130). This case is a good example of inappropriate material viewable by all and is a good example that could be used to argue in favor of censorship. Minneapolis’ decision was guided by an incident that occurred in the Twin cities with a billboard that advertised for Howard Stern’s radio show. That billboard showed a buxom actress that was viewable by all. The billboard was cancelled by Clear Channel Communications.

Outdoor Rebirth

As other methods of advertising become more and more expensive the out of home advertising on billboards has become more and more popular. Outdoor billboards reach a wider audience than television, radio, newspapers, and magazine advertisements. “Retail advertising led the percentage growth with a 154% increase totaling $74 million” (Davis, S-1,2). Retailers attribute their recent growth to out of home advertising such as billboards. Again, the advertising on these billboards are viewed by all, including children.

Marketers are using available space in buses and other transit sites to reach their target market. Movie advertisements as well as fashion advertisements are visible to all. Oftentimes inappropriate material makes its way on to buses and into stations and bus stops. This out of home advertising is used to target market rather than using electronic media (computers or televisions).

Billboards in Boston

Boston, Massachusetts has long been a good market for billboards. The city has taken action to limit billboards in the city. No laws are in place to censor what is on a billboard but local ordinances are in place to limit their placement within the city. This has resulted in a “limited supply of outdoor advertising sites” (Qualters, 9). Zoning laws have been put into place that limits the placement of new billboards. In fact, it is nearly impossible to erect new billboards within the city. A.K. Media has a near monopoly within the city when it comes to billboards. Those who wish to advertise in Boston using billboards often must sign long-term contracts. It is clear that Boston wishes to control the billboard advertising market.

64 Studebaker

Billboards are also used by not-for-profit organizations to promote events or facilities. This type of advertising does not fall into the category of inappropriate advertising as it is most often fit for all viewers. Used appropriately, billboards can help advertise and support museums and other not-for-profit organizations.

In Indiana the Studebaker Museum uses billboards to advertise the museum. Around South Bend billboards show a ’64 Studebaker Lark and the logo “Different…By Design” (Kaelble, 6). The Studebaker Museum was getting ready to break ground for a new museum and was exploring new was to get additional funding. The result is the billboard ads around Southbend.

Cheaper Than Television

The draw to using billboards includes reaching a wider audience and the lower cost. Billboard ads are much cheaper than television advertisements. Interestingly, controversy surrounding a particular billboard can actually raise profits connected to the advertisement. Levi Strauss’ sales of wrinkle-free Dockers went up when their billboards were ordered torn down because the billboards featured a real pair of pants. They were ordered torn down because New York officials said it was too much of a draw for thieves wanting the pair of pants melted between two pieces of plastic on the billboards. The controversy gave Levi Strauss some free advertising.

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Docker’s marketing manager, Patrick Mercanton, said that “We’re always trying to differentiate ourselves and our advertising campaigns, not only by creative artwork of the ads but also by the media support, which has to be spectacular and unusual” (Daily News Record, 201). This example shows the effect of billboard advertising. In this case officials were afraid of a crime wave from those seeking the pair of Dockers melted between clear plastic.

Tivo Proof

What’s significant about billboard advertising is that it is hard to tune it out. Tivo allows viewers to skip over advertisements on television. Billboards have been described as “Tivo Proof” (Business Week, 70). In Cleveland, Ohio electronic billboards have been positioned to target market drivers stuck in traffic on I-70 that rolls through this city. Seven electronic billboards shout out their messages around Cleveland. Questions surround the placement of obviously distracting electronic billboards that, even during daytime, blind drivers through the city. These state of the art light-emitting-diode displays can display several messages over a period of time. Businesses can buy ‘time’ on these boards.

The problem with LED billboards is that they are very bright and very distracting to passers by. Although no accidents have been reported as a result of viewing this board the placement of these boards is disturbing. Again, Clear Channel Communications has a strong hold on the Cleveland billboard market much like the Boston market. These LED boards can “change static messages every eight seconds” (Business Week, 70). The idea is to catch the attention of the drivers passing by. This could prove to be a real hazard as drivers attempt to either maintain their focus on the billboard or the road ahead of them.

Spooky Advertising

In some cases advertising out of the home has gone to far. “New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in Soho last week when she heard a woman’s voice right in her ear asking, ‘Who’s there? Who’s there?’. She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings.” (Hampp, 3). What she was hearing was a message initiated from a billboard she was passing. A speaker was placed on the roof of a building that transmitted an “audio spotlight”.

The speaker is designed to direct sound toward the top of your head so you hear it like its inside your ear. Many feel that this type of media has gone too far. Ms. Wilson did not connect the sound to the billboard she was passing and was disturbed by the effect. Billboards with this type of technology give passers by a schizophrenic like experience that is quite disturbing. The voice can not be identified by the passerby and leaves them a “little freaked out” (Hampp, 3).

Walking Billboards

I think that just about everyone has been exposed to that minimum wage earner with a billboard strapped to tent style over their body. His movement is meant to draw attention to himself and the billboards message. This type of advertising may be effective but the distraction to drivers may have the same effect as that LED billboard in Cleveland.


There is one state that has legislated the use of billboards within its boundaries. Vermont passed a landmark billboard law 40 years ago that has forever changed the landscape of Vermont highways and byways. Ted Riehle put forward the legislation that was debated in the legislature in 1968. After much debate the legislature passed the law that forbids billboards in favor of preserving the countryside views in Vermont. Many Vermonters take this view for granted until they visit other states plastered with billboards. Then they return to their home in Vermont thankful that the state has such legislation forbidding billboards.

“In 1968 the Vermont became the first state in the nation to have a total ban on billboards, one of only four states today” (McCrea, 1). One of the things that sets Vermont apart from other states is the absence of billboards.

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Advertising, especially billboards, sometimes is ‘in your face’ and out of line. With the advent of newer technology, that limits in-home-advertising, marketers have turned to out-of-home advertising to increase sales and profits. Billboards are one type of out-of-home advertising that needs to be regulated for several reasons. Billboards are viewable by all who pass them and their message may not be appropriate for all audiences. In cities billboard advertising often takes up all available flat services viewable to passers by. Some cities have taken action to limit what is viewable by tearing down inappropriate material (Minneapolis and Boston). Zoning laws and legislative rulings have limited billboards in some places (Boston and Vermont).

Because outdoor advertising is viewable by a wider audience than television, or print advertisements, more and more marketers are choosing billboards to advertise their products. Some billboards are inappropriate because they utilize LED technology to draw attention from drivers who should be paying attention to their driving.

Billboards are considered Tivo proof, cheaper than television, and very effective. Some billboards are simply “spooky” because they attempt to use sound to put messages in your head. The only way to stay away from out-of-home advertising is to stay home.

Works Cited

Behrens, Lawrence and Leonard Rosen. “The Indictments Against Advertising”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, Ninth Edition. Longman.

Burke, Dan. “Walking Billboards.” Fire Chief 52.2 (2008): NA. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Davis, Riccardo A. “Apparel, movies orchestrate an outdoor rebirth.” Advertising Age 64.n49 (1993): S-1(2). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Goldstein, Sarah. “Bright lights, big impact: why digital billboards are Growing in popularity.(ADVERTISING)(Clear Channel Communications Inc)(Edina Realty Inc.).” Inc. 30.3 (2008): 61(2). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Hampp, Andrew. “HEAR VOICES? IT MAY BE AN AD; A&E takes eerie approach with billboard that ‘whispers’ a spooky message audible only in your head in push to promote its new ‘Paranormal’ program.(News)(A&E Television Networks).” Advertising Age 78.49 (2007): 3. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Hoye, Sue. “Local Groups Reap Benefits From Donated Billboard Space.” Chronicle of Philanthropy 19.07 (2007): NA. General Reference Center Gold. Gale.. Web.

Kaelble, Steve. “Is this a lark? Billboards appear across South Bend.” Indiana Business Magazine 48.3 (2004): 6(2). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Kim, Junu Bryan. “Out-of-home sellers fill out niches for saturation coverage.” Advertising Age 64.n49 (1993): S-6(1). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

Mcrea, Lynne. “Billboard Ban Turns 40”. 2008. Vermont Public Radio. Web.

“Poster mortem.” Daily News Record 25.n201 (1995): 5(1). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Carroll County District Library. Web.

QUALTERS, SHERI. “Billboard ad market loosens up–well, just a little.” Boston Business Journal 21.4 (2001): 9. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

TRIGOBOFF, DAN. “STREET SWEEP.” Broadcasting & Cable 130.44 (2000): 20. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

“What’s In-Your-Face and TiVo-Proof? LED Billboards.” Business Week 3938 (2005): 70. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Web.

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