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New billboards bring high-tech advertising to Salt Lake City commuters

New billboards bring high-tech advertising to Salt Lake City commuters

(Paul Kruze, Contributor)

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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY— Shortly after Thomas Young immigrated with his family to Ogden from Great Britain in 1910, the young sign painter opened a sign shop specializing in coffin plates, gold-leaf window lettering, simple lighted signs and painted wall advertisements.

As electricity became a major part of lighting and sign making, Young’s signs also incorporated the new technology. Now, over a century later, two Salt Lake City entrepreneurs have taken a major step and brought outdoor billboard advertising into the 21st century with preprogrammed advertising messages displayed on billboard stanchions throughout the Intermountain Region.

Although digital screen billboards are nothing new and have been used for the past 15 years by Salt Lake City’s Young Electric Sign Company, they are being further utilized in a new and different way.

The brainchild of “serial entrepreneurs,” computer programmer Brent Thomson and internet marketing professional James Munnerlyn, created an innovative online system allowing businesses and others who wish to post an ad on YESCO’s billboards in Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Oregon to control when and how much they are willing to invest on advertising space.

The pair anticipates digital billboards owned by other companies to come online in the near future. Thomson has been involved with a number of ventures including founding Jive Communications and co-founding Scratch, a micro-payment processor. Munnerlyn’s background includes being the founder of Infuseo, a company that provides internet marketing and search engine optimization services.

We are only three months old. Inventory is looking good. We would like to be nationwide as quick as we can.

–Brent Thomson

“James and I have been friends for many years. Last year, he was at a billboard industry conference. He and I were talking and I was surprised to learn that the billboard industry was one that hadn’t really caught up to the information age,” Thomson said. “It seemed kind of ridiculous to me. Things hadn’t really changed by August of last year so we decided to give it a whirl."

That was when Thomson and Munnerlyn developed their system so it would be an active marketplace with advertising messages on a digital billboard. Each advertising screen is visible for eight seconds at a time and cycles through eight screens.

Most billboards are created by advertising agencies for a major product or service who purchase space for a certain period of time. They are often on expensive long-term contracts which end up limiting the type of businesses that can advertise on billboards.

Advertising space bought through the Blip digital billboard marketplace allows both small and large businesses to purchase time and space on a billboard with no term commitments or budget minimums.

In short, advertisers can directly choose and control which products they want to advertise, buy as much or as little space for as short or long of a time period as they want. Not only that, the system allows users to set up parameters based on their daily advertising budget, how much they are willing to spend per rotation and directly upload the artwork to a central server.

Advertisers can choose the boards they want their advertisement to show up on, the time of day, alter the price by time of day and more. Each billboard company can simply decide how much space to allocate to Blip, regardless of whether it comes from unsold inventory or not.

Sign owners predetermine how many slots to allocate directly to the Blip marketplace while continuing to sell traditional space to advertisers and advertising agencies.

Blip’s ads have a potential audience of 6 million commuters who pass by on 15 YESCO billboards on I-15, I-215 and I-80 in addition to YESCO’s billboards in Arizona, Idaho and Oregon.

“The advent of digital billboards in the last several years was the beginning of major changes in the billboard industry,” said Jeffrey S. Young, YESCO’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “It was common for us to take contracts that were a minimum of 12 months because you would have to print or paint a big graphic that would be put on a large panel to make it break even."

Young said the idea that an advertisement can be designed in the morning and be displayed by lunchtime is a great thing.

Thomson said that just as Uber and Lyft have “disrupted” the taxi and shuttle business, Blip has the potential of “disrupting” the billboard advertising industry.

“We are effectively opening up the marketplace for some tiny fraction of businesses who can justify advertising on billboards previously, to basically any company with any advertising budget,” Thomson said.

While Blip has set its sights on expanding to other billboard companies in Salt Lake City and throughout the United States outside the Intermountain region, at this point, it is concentrating on its relationship with YESCO in Salt Lake City. Thomson says that with the launch of their service on June 6th that things look very promising.

“We are only three months old. Inventory [number of ads and advertisers] is looking good. We would like to be nationwide as quick as we can,” Thomson said.

Paul Kruze is a San Diego-based multiple award-winning multimedia journalist who has covered politics, technology, multicultural and other stories. He is also a professional musician. Email: Twitter: @PaulKruzeNews



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