The Medium Is the Mess

Prop A has billboard companies on the defensive and scrambling to put up more signs

Billboards are big business in Missouri. They're big business everywhere. According to OAAA, Americans will probably spend more than $5 billion on outdoor advertising by the end of this year, a 10 percent increase over 1999. About 70 percent of all billboards in Missouri are owned by out-of-state companies like Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which has 125,000 billboards nationwide and which reported net annual revenues in June of $173 million.

On average, most billboards are taken out to promote local services and amusements -- about 16 percent -- followed by hotels and resorts, retail and media and advertising. In Missouri, according to the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association (MOAA), almost 85 percent of the billboards are bought by small local businesses.

"I've been working for DDI Media for 10 years," says Anthony Mariani, a real-estate manager for the St. Louis billboard company, "and we have increased our sales every single year. There are new markets and new users of outdoor advertising all the time, especially now with all of the dotcom companies. They're very big users."

Studies show that 74 percent of billboards in a rider's field of vision are seen and 48 percent of those boards are actually read. Some Missourians prefer to do without the clutter.
Jennifer Silverberg
Studies show that 74 percent of billboards in a rider's field of vision are seen and 48 percent of those boards are actually read. Some Missourians prefer to do without the clutter.

One effective billboard seen a lot these days is the one stating "VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION A!" The sign was paid for by Missourians Against Tax Waste, a coalition obviously opposed to the measure, which includes groups ranging from the National Federation of Independent Businesses to the National Barrel Horse Association to the Joplin Truckomat. Several Red Lobster franchises are in there, too, as are casinos, family-owned restaurants, auto dealerships, hotel chains, farm-supply stores, labor unions and Your Radio Pastor, T. Richard Baber, billboard users all.

Although Save Our Scenery 2000 has not taken out any billboards to advertise its campaign, it also includes an unlikely coalition of groups that includes Hallmark Cards Inc., the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Silver Dollar City, the Missouri Public Health Association, the Missouri Municipal League, the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, the Conservation Federation of Missouri, Lodge of the Four Seasons Inc. and the Garden Club of Ladue.

The main gripe of Missourians Against Tax Waste is that the statutory changes put forth by Prop A would allow the state to take down as many as 4,000 signs at a cost of $600 million to taxpayers. Mariani -- who, in addition to working for DDI Media, is vice president of MOAA -- says that the language requires existing billboards to conform to certain size, lighting and spacing requirements; ones that don't can be condemned by MoDOT. "And we're not sure if that's what Missouri taxpayers want," Mariani says.

Mariani says his group's allegation is based on its interpretations of Prop A's statutory provisions, but MoDOT and the state auditor's office both claim the language doesn't require any signs be taken down at all.

"It's a complete and total fabrication," Kruse says. "They have simply made this up to scare voters and continue to use it even though the director of MoDOT and the state auditor say there's no requirement that billboards be removed."

Rather, Kruse says, Prop A would eliminate billboards through time. If a tornado ripped through St. Charles and tore down billboards in its path, they couldn't be replaced. If a wooden sign was attacked by termites and fell down, it couldn't be re-erected. If trees on a public right-of-way grew up and obscured a low billboard, they couldn't be cut down.

"That's the best we can do," Kruse says.

Related Links
Save Our Scenery 2000
Missourians Against Tax Waste

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