Do banner ads work better than billboards?

An advertising study shows details the different mix of billboards in New York's neighborhoods.
Stephen Baker

I walk through Times Square every day. Sometimes I look at all the billboards, and I wonder if the consumer in me is affected by them. I'm sure most of us think we're more resilient to advertising than we are.

Then I come into the office and am immediately confronted with banner ads on Web sites, including this one. Do they work any better than billboards? Well, they count clicks, which has to be helpful, and they target certain demographics.

But billboards target as well. Consider this outdoor advertising study on Adscape, a site run by Parsons New School of Design. Researchers counted ads in three very different New York neighborhoods: East Harlem, the Upper East Side, and Soho. And you can see by the results how the advertisers are targeting different groups.

East Harlem, for example, has 12 billboards for alcohol and tobacco, the other two neighborhoods, none. But East Harlem has zero billboards advertising books and periodicals, while Soho has 30 and the Upper East Side 11. (Here's a question for advertisers and sociologists. Judging by the ads, smoking rates are likely higher in East Harlem, and reading rates are lower than in the other two neighborhoods. If advertising works, how much does it contribute to those gaps?)

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