Digital Billboards Draw International Controversy

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Businesses are always looking for new ways to catch consumers’ attention. Now, thanks to advancing technology, some companies may be able to accomplish this with digital billboards, which feature moving, computer-controlled displays and messages. Research from OTX, a global consumer research and consulting firm, shows that these signs are extremely effective, with an estimated 63% of adults reporting that digital advertising catches their attention. However, cities from Indiana to Pakistan aren’t quite so impressed with these interesting advertising methods, and many are considering legislation against them. But what does this mean for businesses and consumers in both countries?The latest round of this controversy began in Indianapolis in late January, when the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development committee decided to vote on whether or not to ban digital billboards throughout Marion County. Problems surrounding the issue originally began on December 1, when councilors were given the chance to decide whether or not to lift an existing ban. Public outcry requesting at least one more hearing and time to process the proposal caused the matter to be sent back to the committee. Now, even more people are prepared to fight the bill to demand further attention be paid to the issue.

The proposal stipulates that for every digital billboard that is erected, twice as much square footage of static billboards must be dismantled. Additionally, the number of digital billboards that could be constructed over the next year and a half would be limited to 75. However, much of the conflict surrounds the original proposal, which was written by billboard companies Lamar and Clear Channel. Critics are also concerned that the proposal originated in the council before being sent to the committee, a reversal of normal protocol. As a result, dozens of organizations have spoken out against the proposal.

Meanwhile, similar controversy began brewing in Islamabad, Pakistan. On Sunday, February 8, a road safety expert appealed to city authorities to create stronger regulations regarding the use of digital billboards. In a statement, Mohammad Shahid, founder of the group Road Safety First, pointed out that many countries have banned the billboards and that unlike cell phones, drivers are unable to turn these distractions off.

According to Shahid, digital billboards typically change images every four to 10 seconds, creating a significant distraction for passing drivers. Shahid complimented local authorities on their efforts to crack down on illegal or unapproved billboards in the area, but pointed out that local traffic rules state that there should be warning signs, information signs, route signs, road markings and supplementary plates to guide drivers and pedestrians — most of which are lacking in Islamabad.

Discussing the issue, a resident of Islamabad’s Bhara Kahu neighborhood commented that few roads had even minimum traffic signs. In such a perilous driving environment, perhaps both Indianapolis and Islamabad would benefit from restricting digital billboards to pedestrian areas or limiting the number allowed in a certain area.

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