Signs of the Future

Recently I found myself strolling Cabo San Lucas. My bride and I snuck away for a week to recharge our batteries, and we wandered off the beaten path to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

Given that I speak little Spanish, it was an adventure.

As we felt our way back to civilization, we looked carefully at the street signs to ensure we didn’t get lost. That’s when I noticed the advertising.

You guessed it: every street sign had a 3”x4” ad on it. They were VERY localized, touting a merchant on the particular street we were on.

These signs were 9’ above street level, so anyone driving by couldn’t easily read the messages. Furthermore, the tiny logos weren’t likely to catch drivers’ attention. You’d see the message only if you were walking by and looking up.

Local pedestrians may be the audience, but the messages’ value was lost on me.

Road sign sponsorship isn’t new. Municipalities regularly sell naming rights to lengths of highway in exchange for a commitment to keep that stretch of road clean. But does such marketing work?

For guidance I asked Adrienne Streeter. She’s sponsored a two-mile stretch of I-163 since 2001, spending roughly $300 monthly for what she calls “amazing exposure.”

“Streeter Printing doesn’t always get business from it directly,” she reports, adding “It’s part of our overall marketing mix.”

“I get people calling all the time saying they saw the sign. I found it so valuable we recently adopted another stretch of freeway. We’re a green printer, and we’re contributing to a cleaner San Diego.”

The California Adopt-A-Highway program allows individuals, groups, and companies to help beautify roadsides, park and ride lots, vista points, and other areas, with permits issued for five years. The sites offered are first-come, first-served, so there’s the risk your ad won’t drive traffic to a local retail location.

However, as we’re all selling online these days this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, I’m suspecting most businesses prefer advertising close to their facilities.

For cash-strapped cities, there’s a solution halfway between the two options. Don’t be surprised to one day see signs large enough to read from the car that sponsor individual blocks in places like San Diego.

Am I reading too much into this? What do you think?

With that said, I wish you a week of profitable marketing.

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