When Billboards Become Visible

If you're in the billboard business you'd probably want to know exactly when a billboard becomes visible to drivers. So in 1953 research was conducted at the Iowa State College Experiment Station to get an answer to this question. The study involved having subjects watch miniature billboards slowly approach on a conveyor belt.

Source: Duke University Libraries - Archives of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

The Duke University blog also notes that in 1958 "The OAAA commissioned Jack Prince, a professor of ophthalmology at Ohio State University, to study the visual dynamics of outdoor advertising, resulting in the first legibility studies of ad copy." I'm not sure how these two studies related to each other. They sound suspiciously similar. And the 1958 studies obviously weren't the first given that the pictures below show research labeled as happening in 1953.

Update: The researcher in the photos is probably Dr. A.R. Lauer of Iowa State's Department of Psychology, and he may have been studying the phenomenon of "Highway Hypnosis."

In the early 1950s there was increasing criticism of the proliferation of billboards along the side of roads. People complained that they were ugly and possibly distracted drivers. So the OAAA sponsored Dr. Lauer to research the safety benefits of billboards, and specifically whether billboards distracted drivers.

Lauer came up with the result that the billboards did distract drivers, but that this was a good thing because it saved them from Highway Hypnosis —entering a trance-like state as they stared at endless, monotonous roads.

The OAAA then took out ads in newspapers promoting Lauer's research and the safety benefits of billboards.

The Des Moines Register - Mar 23, 1958

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Jan 20, 2017
     Category: Advertising | Experiments | 1950s | Billboards

The only billboard that I have found worthy was this one:

Posted by KDP on 01/20/17 at 02:27 PM
Back in the late 60's, early 70's, I hand painted billboards throughout Florida and Louisiana. Best of times.
Posted by D.Johnston on 01/20/17 at 03:35 PM
Don't forget this one:

Posted by Virtual on 01/21/17 at 12:55 AM
If you can see one billboard slowly approach you, they're hardly proliferating...
Though, that highway hypnosis is real. We have it in the Netherlands, too, only here it's caused by the flatness of the polders and the straigthness of the roads through it.
Posted by Richard Bos on 01/21/17 at 05:56 AM
These particular boards had to be removed from all over the USA. Apparently, people drove off the road asleep several miles after they saw the sign.
Posted by D.Johnston on 01/21/17 at 11:37 AM
Driving through North and South Carolina many times over the years I can assure you I'd have died of boredom had it not been for the near constant, tiny (and somewhat irritating) distraction of the "South Of The Border" billboards.

Posted by PupTentacle on 01/21/17 at 12:13 PM
Once or twice a year I have to make a trip which takes me through Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. Billboards (or any other sign of civilization) would be very welcome in a lot of areas! I've found the best way to get through them is to drive at night -- your horizon is the range of your headlights, so you don't fall into the trap of staring at a fixed point.
Posted by Phideaux on 01/21/17 at 12:35 PM
These need an honorable mention here:
Posted by Virtual on 01/22/17 at 12:07 AM
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