Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Digital Signage, Need to Know: Are LED Billboards Safe?

New technology is not instantly accepted and used, regardless of its value, effectiveness, cost, or efficiency. There are many reasons why it takes time for users to get "on board" with even the coolest innovation. LED technology adapted for use in LED sign, including billboards is one such innovation.

There is a statistical science to how new technology is accepted by society. This is called the "Technology Adoption Lifecycle" or diffusion model, and a simple summary from Wikipedia can be read here Summary.

What is says is that there are 5 categories of users of new technology within the standard bell curve with time on the "X" axis of the graph:

Category               Percentage
-------------------    -------------
Innovators               2.5%
Early Adopters         13.5%
Early Majority          34.0% 
Late Majority          34.0%
Laggard                 16.0%

Over time, the Innovators comprise 2.5% percent of the population- those were the people who perhaps rushed out to buy Apple 1s in June of 1977. Or maybe, in the LED sign industry, the Innovators were those customers who purchased something like a DCI message board that used relays and light bulbs insanely complex programming- before the introduction of today's RGB comparative "miracle".

The other user categories gradually catch on, and the product "takes off" and becomes accepted.

Where are we with the LED sign billboards? I don't think anyone can say for sure, but my guess is we are somewhere in the Early Majority. By the time the Innovators, Early Adopters, and the Early Majority have accepted LED sign billboards about half the market of people who will eventually buy LED sign billboard will have accepted them and will own one.

What's stopping the rest of the customers? Perhaps cost, waiting for even better technology, understanding the true cost versus financial return of the product and I think social acceptance, including the perceived safety of LED sign billboards by communities and "laggards", as referenced above, must be considered.

A recent study by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration entitled "Driver Visual Behavior In The Presence of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs" (Report), concluded that drivers did, in fact, take an instant longer to look at the LED sign messages than a static-message billboard. But the distraction time was well under two-second safety threshold established. The LED-message glance took  0.379 seconds, while glances at static billboards took 0.335 seconds. This was not statistically significant.
Digital billboards are referred to as Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) within the study.

The study summarizes, “The results did not provide evidence indicating that CEVMS, as deployed and tested in the two selected cities, were associated with unacceptably long glances away from the road. When dwell times longer than the currently accepted threshold of 2,000 ms [milliseconds] occurred, the road ahead was still in the driver’s field of view. This was the case for both CEVMS and standard billboards.” 

Now that the safety objection has been surmounted we can move on to other objections to the roll-out of digital billboards. The digital billboards I see look a lot like static billboard with extended duration messages and intentionally understated graphics.

If you don't like billboards in general, that may be. But there must be a balance between commerce and a pristine right-of-way, it's not just a case of "all or nothing"

This digital billboard phenomenon is not a nefarious invasion. It's merely an easier and more profitable way to stage outdoor media. But, as they say, "You can overcome objections, but not excuses!"  What is the next excuse, uhh, objection?

These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at  - Mike Prongue

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Digital Signage 101 - Content: Show, don't tell... the importance of graphic content with DS

-Deacon Wardlow
Somewhere along the line, someone didn't take into consideration the unique aspect of a digital medium and (more importantly) how it's supposed to be used. A digital menu board isn't just the menu on an LCD or other HD screen with some animations. A digital menu board is a visual diorama of what's available, the cost, and options. The best example I've seen of this is in Japan with the plastic food.

A visit to Japan will net you amazing and eye-opening experiences and one of them is the plastic food. Items displayed at the restaurant entrance which are eerily exactly WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), down to the sheen on the soup. Amazing, simple, to-the-point, and just what I want as food is such a visual thing to begin with. Why is this not catching on with our DS systems?

LED Sign systems tend to be more in-line and "get it" than interior (or some exterior) HD displays (meaning LCD, OLED, other...). Partially this is because the average viewing time is somewhere between 3-6 seconds as a driver goes by an LED Sign. Short viewing times mean the message has to be brief, impactful, and memorable. Regardless of the location or image quality, all DS should be like this. Brief - impactful - memorable.

If someone wants to know more about a given food item, they'll ask. Entice them with images and price and let the DS display be as impactful as possible. Whether it's a chicken filet sandwhich or information about new dental services - a DS systems needs to be designed in such a way as to grab the viewers' attention and be successful at whatever the DS objective is.

Want to reduce perceived wait times? - Quick fun and quirky trivia (with pics if possible).
Digital Menu Board? - Show food and prices with special items animated (especially if the "special item" is something that needs to be sold out ASAP)
C-Store/gas station? - Highlight lunch specials, the new milkshake machine, free 72 hour refills on soda w/receipt and special cup, etc.
Airport - Show a map highlighting where a person is and which flights are going out at which gates - maybe even a path to the gate with special mention of food/drink/stores along the way...

As Scott pointed out in last week's article, we say too much and end up losing the message. With DS the important emphasis should be on SHOWING, not tellling the important details of the message you're looking to convey. By simplifying the message and cleaning up the clutter, you'll achieve your DS goals faster and better than before.

Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Digital Signage, Need to Know: Too Much, Not Enough? How To Create an Efficient and Effective Impression With Your LED Sign.

-Scott Hofheins

Your outdoor or indoor digital sign has something to say, and someone to say it too. How much information is too much? How much is too little? These are factors that any operator has to balance appropriately to generate effective content on a display. I’ll be focusing on outdoor digital signage for this post, but much of this can apply to indoor applications as well.

In order effectively use your display to it’s fullest, you must first define its purposes and prioritize them accordingly. What type of display is this going to be, and why would your viewers be interested in it?

Attention Getter
Do you want your sign just generate “flash” and attention to your existing location or static signage? This means that the actual text of the message isn't’ as important as the movement, colors and general excitement of the content. Some would argue that ALL outdoor LED signs fill this purpose, but I would caution that in most cases this is an auxiliary effect of your display, not the main purpose.

However, in certain situations this may your main goal, and you will need to focus your content on imagery, colors, and moving designs and shapes. In these cases, the “call to action” is the actual image and colors. The more colorful, hip, and dynamic the animations, the more visible your display will be, increasing the chance for the viewers to take a look.

Information Provider
Does your sign provide information to your viewers, like stocks, emergency information, events, dates and times, or statistics? Some examples would be factories, municipal buildings, traffic displays, scrolling stock tickers, and other special purpose applications.

While it is still important to make the information colorful and dynamic, the focus should be on the information itself. Content for these types of displays should still have movement and limited effects for attention, but the clarity and readability of the text should be the number one priority. That may mean using simple backgrounds, and easy to read, bold, and single color text.  

On-Premise Advertising
Most LED signs will fall into this category. Your sign is drawing attention and advertising for your business or organization “On-Premise” (or on the property) and is directing the viewers to stop in, call, or visit your website.

Content for these displays should be colorful, dynamic and attention getting on all levels, while still maintaining the clarity of the message. Effects should be eye catching, but end quickly to allow more time to communication a clear and concise message with the text. The text should still be colorful, but readable, and contain a call to action.

Scheduling the content for these displays needs to be done carefully. You must keep your messages focused, as your viewers have a limited time to view your display. They may only get 1 or 2 messages, or in some cases 3-4. Overcrowding a display with too many messages for separate products or services can sometimes cause viewers to be less responsive to the sign. This is not to say that content shouldn’t be updated, but that it should be focused. Keep the content fresh, and advertise your products and services in multiple ways, but control the quantity of each product or service on the sign.

Off-Premise Advertising
Digital billboards make up the majority of this area, but there are other avenues for this type of sign application like malls, multi tenant offices and shopping centers. These displays advertise products, companies, brands, and services that are not necessarily on the same property as the sign. They direct viewers to visit websites, call telephone numbers, or visit locations “Off-Premise” from the actual display.

Many of the same principles apply as an On-Premise sign. Content should be colorful, dynamic and attention getting. In many cases, these displays are much larger than On-Premise signs, so the content can use more fonts with more options for stylistic designs. However, the message still must be clear and readable. Most of the time, viewers for these are traveling on a busy street, and still have limited time to view the content.

Over-scheduling Off-Premise displays means less views (impressions) per advertisement, reducing the effectiveness for each ad. This in turn can affect the revenue you can generate with each ad, so most operators will limit the display to a certain number of slots per sign to control this factor.

How Much Time?
To maximize the effect your content has on the viewers, you must be very aware of how much time they have to look at your display. If you don’t have a good grasp on this, then take some time to drive by your sign and verify. How many seconds of real viewing time does the average driver, or viewer have?

If your sign is lucky enough to be in a location where viewers are captive, like standing in line at a ticket booth, or heavy traffic and/or traffic lights, then you don’t have to worry as much about overloading your sign. While your marketing should still remain focused, you can have more products or services listed for the viewers to see and react to.

Many signs are located on busy streets or freeways. You sign can be just as effective, but you must manage the quantity of your messages, and keep a targeted approach. These drivers may only have a couple of seconds to see your sign, and you need to make that count. The text of your messages should very simple and easy to remember. Effects and movement should be quick, and make way for the text immediately. Keeping your content fresh is even more important, to continue to grab the attention of the viewers.

Other locations can be a mixture of both. Some parts of day might be fast, and viewers don’t have much time to view the display. Other times can be slower, with increased traffic and slower traveling speed. Take this into account with your scheduling and content and adjust accordingly throughout the day. Good sign software provided from quality manufacturers will allow you to do this quickly and easily.

Call to Action and Relevancy
Make sure your content really counts. While general information is good, information that tells you to do something is much better. When creating content, always be thinking of what you want the customer to do with that information. Should they turn in right now and visit you? Should they call you for a quote? Like you on facebook for a discount? These are some examples of a call to action, directing the viewer to interact with you.

In addition to this, make sure your content itself has a purpose. Time, Date and Temperature messages don’t demand attention like they used to. While there are some locations and situations where these may be important, it’s usually best to spend the time advertising  your organization or products.

Put yourself in your viewers shoes, and make sure you're not overloading them with information. Organize your sign schedule, and design your content according to their needs. Every location is a bit different, but the key is to find out exactly what type of viewer is seeing your sign, when they are seeing it, and how long they have to see it. Take the time to do this, and you will find the balance of information, and get the most out of your digital sign.


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Digital Signage, Need to Know: Cheap is, as Cheap does.

One evening this past week, as I prepared to click over to Netflix to watch a movie, the old sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” was on.  Wally, played by Tony Dow, the older of the two kids who star in this American classic, was lamenting the fact that his sarcastic and hard-headed friend Eddie Haskell, played by Ken Osmond, could never change his behavior and he said something like this:

“You could slug him a thousand times and he’d never get the message- Eddie is Eddie!”

Well, that is exactly the attitude of some sign companies who still sell LED Signs on price alone, cheap price alone!

We’ve slugged them and slugged them with information. Heck, they “slug” themselves each day with unhappy customers, repeat service calls, and technical issues: LED signs that dim after a few months for example, but some never seem to “get the message”.

Many LED sign companies have gotten the message, but sometimes when their customer  screams “Price!” they run back to those importers who advertise their product on “price” alone- those importers who steadfastly deny all they know, hear and see to be true when they advertise that “All LED signs are alike!”

Really, there is never a reason to sell on price. I know, I know… you are thinking “that one guy across town said he’d only spend $8,000, so I had to import a ‘burner’ to make him happy!”

Let’s try to shift your LED sign paradigm a bit! Shall we?

When you buy a watermelon that is an expendable item, right? When you buy an X-Box or a TV set, for example, those are items that have value because they entertain you. These items are commodity items, or consumer items. Other items such as a refrigerator or a kitchen range have value because they help you live comfortably as we can store and process our foods effectively.  They have utility value.

Sometimes a person can save money by “going cheap” on commodities or consumer items. A cheap range may be all that is required if a person only cooks once a week. Or if a refrigerator is for occasional use in a vacation home, then you can argue that a basic model may suffice because it’s not relied upon daily. 

An LED sign is not a commodity no matter how determined the ad in the magazine declares that it is!

An LED display is called upon frequently to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is the “face” of the business that is projected to new customers and the community. It is the “pitchman” always promoting the business. 

Here is how you show the customer that they can afford a quality LED sign having it paid for from the increased sales the new LED sign provides.

You’ve heard it before but here again is the process:

  • Determine what life-span you wish to assign your LED sign installation. For the sake of argument, be conservative and say “5 years.”
  • What is a realistic interest rate for commercial financing,"8 percent”?
  • Assume a percentage increase in the customer’s business from the new LED sign,“15 percent”.
  • Assume a gross margin percentage for the business, “25 percent”.
  • What is the current sales level of the business, “$600,000”?

Do the math:

The finance cost of $20,000 at 8% interest for 5 years is about $405 per month.

If sales increase at 15% from the current $600,000, at 25% margin, how much new income is there available to pay for the LED sign?  ($600,000*.15*.25) = $22,500 per year or $1875 per month.

So the sales increase from the LED sign should cover the cost of the financing and add an additional $17,640 to the business’ annual income ($22,500 – ($405*12 months)). It's a "free" sign!

Why go cheap? Why suffer with poor, cheap software? Why project the face of your business or non profit concern with an LED sign that operates intermittently?

Customers have a belief that “X” dollars is all they can spend or that's all the project's worth. It is your job to dispel that myth stuck in their head. Slug 'em with some information, or an example to keep them from buying an LED sign they'll regret for years.

Other considerations when selling LED signs:

What do you do when you have a non-profit? How do you make the return on investment point?

Each new member of the church’s congregation, or each new member of the Elk’s Club (for example) adds to the success of that non profit. Ask the question:

“How many new faces will the LED sign attract?” Or, if that question is too precarious, ask how much money the non profit spends on bill board or TV advertisement that will not longer be required.

A local church had suspended it’s billboard ads, and then suddenly a new LED sign popped up at the church! Someone was on their toes at that LED sign company!

Another suggestion is to challenge the customer and have them drive around the town and look at the LED signs that don't work! Who makes them? No-name Nellies... imports. Show them the LED sign carcasses that litter the sign poles in your town.

On premise advertising works. That is an undeniable fact. 

It works better for all parties concerned when the product is a high-quality,  and domestically engineered and manufactured. Say it… “USA, USA, USA!”

All I've needed to know in life was learned from Wally Cleaver, "Golly, that sure is neat!"

These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at  - Mike Prongue