Ditch that billboard

I use billboards as a way to decide NOT to attend events.

An event advertised on a billboard tells me it has been watered down for the masses – for anybody who lays their eyes upon it. With a billboard, the audience is necessarily heterogeneous. And to appeal to such an audience is to fit an event in the boring middle of a bell curve rather than its exciting extremes.


And this applies not just to billboards, but any form of mass advertisement – TV, radio, magazines or those trailers they play in movie theaters.

In the past, most events were designed for the mediocre middle rather than the exciting, but risky extremes. This was a necessity, considering the high cost of publicity. Everybody aimed to make a popular hit with a low risk of failure. Mainstream Hollywood movies which run expensive television ads continue to be built this way.

Sure, some of these mainstream events might delight me. Nevertheless, the likelihood of that happening is lower than something built for people just like me, and just for people like me.

Thanks to the internet, there has never been a better time to seek out exactly what you want. Rather than Hollywood’s thirtieth interpretation of a superhero, it might a podcast for people who grow hydroponic plants or an ask-me-anything session with that Kenyan javelin thrower who became a world champion by watching Youtube videos.

And those niches will only continue to multiply and become easier to find. So consider ditching that billboard.

2 thoughts on “Ditch that billboard

  1. What is the purpose of an advertisement?

    Say I have something of value to provide to someone out there. In order to put the word out into the world, I need a tool. It needs to be subtle enough to pique interest in my creation and yet not seem manipulative. When done right, it can be an art in itself. On one hand, you have the customer who wants to be rational and make a choice and on the other, you have producers who want you to use their creations. It is a game in which people can benefit as long as there is a sort of dynamic equilibrium. Advertisements are a tool for creators, but they could become a weapon as I will explain later.

    Are you frustrated by the the concept of advertisements or at the particular form that it has taken? In other words, do you think advertisements are necessary at all?

    In my view, advertisements give creators a medium to bring attention to their work. The motivation could be monetary, it could be to spread an idea. Suppose we had a marketplace where creators do not have to pay a rent in order to display their “wares” so to speak (we are not there yet, even in our so called “open” internet). Would advertisements be necessary? Yes, because in an open marketplace, I could come up with a competing idea/product/service to yours. We would need a way to differentiate ourselves to a consumer who has not made up his/her mind.

    In such an open marketplace, there would be a plethora of choices, even in niche segments (maybe to a lesser extent). With multiple choices, what is it that allows one to make a decision after a rational analysis? Right now, one of the factors that pushes one to make a choice is the advertisement. A perfectly rational being would be paralyzed by multiple choices which seem the same on analysis.

    If your frustration is with advertisements, I would ask you consider the point I’ve just made above. That is, in an open marketplace with competing ideas with different levels of similarity, how does a consumer make a choice?

    If your frustration is with the form that advertisements have taken – one of them being bill boards, consider the alternative path which has made tremendous fortunes for companies like Google or Facebook. Their actual customers are advertisers who buy behavioral data about you. They can then tailor advertisements which you will definitely fall far, since they have a detailed dossier about you. In this case, you are being manipulated in a very gross way without even being aware of it. This swings the balance too much in favor of the advertisers.

    If you are okay with advertisements but not billboards, what alternatives do you have in mind?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Bala,

    Thank you for those thoughts on advertising. “It needs to be subtle enough to pique interest in my creation and yet not seem manipulative. When done right, it can be an art in itself.” – this part is spot on. Great insight.

    My post does not concern advertising. It’s a post on how NOT to choose events to attend.

    I suggest not looking at billboards or TV ads. As alternatives, look at podcasts, independent film and music, visit a site like brainpickings.com or find interesting events on meetup.com

    All those things above were not present or nearly as accessible about 10 years ago.


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