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Billboard and Popular Culture Term Paper

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Updated: Jan 24th, 2020


The main aim of this study analyze billboard as an element of the popular culture. Billboards have been in use in US for over hundred years now. They have undergone considerable transformation from simple structures erected to accommodate few posters to large digital screens.

Use of billboards has grown much faster than other forms of mass media except cables and internet. This is attributed to its cost effectiveness and its ability to reach the targeted population within a short period of time. Billboards have been used to enhance and push popular cultures both in US and in the global arena. However, has given rise to both positive and negative effects in the society.


Billboards have become part and parcel of our urban and rural landscape with its base in larger outdoor structures that exhibits adverts to the passerby’s (those in vehicles and pedestrians). While common type of billboards are those erected in big structures there are other forms of billboards including billboards on moving vehicles especially trucks and buses, billboards on benches, billboards on buses/ train shelters among others. There main aim is to sell or advertise a products and services offered by a particular company, organization or institution (Arena 3).

Nowadays the most common types of billboards are the artist boards. This term refers to the any type of large poster posters created by artists and erected in a public place often for advertisement, political or decoration purpose.

Large number of these artist billboards tackles social issues but some reflects interest in communication ideologies than the message itself (Arena 4). According to the US Outdoor Advertising Association, the earliest billboard leases took place in 1867 in US while the first advertisement poster associations were formed in 1972.

However, the initial billboard structure was created in the year 1900 and had the capacity to accommodate about three to sixteen sheets of posters measuring 42 to 28 inches (Bolton 8). The quest for standardized and revolutionized billboards started from then and this gave way for large corporations to take over billboards as an advertising tool (Berman 3).

Since then, popularity of billboards gradually started to grow since companies could utilized billboard advertisement to aim at particular group of consumers at a smaller fee as compared to other form of mass media.

Billboards have the capacity to reach its audience within a day because of its enormous size that arouses attention of the public. Besides its large size, advertising companies nowadays incorporate bright colours, three dimensional pictures and words and rarely audio visual combination to grab the attention of the passersby (Book & Schick 7).

In 1960s, music artists started to recognize that a great deal of the visual culture was characterized by the American way of capitalism (Fraser 2). Pop artists by then started to become aware of the advertisement process, thus developed an interest in enhancing the effects of the visual culture in the commercial arena.

Pop artists challenged the conventional art by arguing that use of visual objects of the popular culture in the mass media was communicable with the viewpoint of the fine art. Therefore, pop arts extracted materials from their original framework and isolated it or combined it with other materials for consideration (Fraser 6).

The evolution of capitalism in the world of mass media in US facilitated active consumption of the advertisements and other imageries. This created a myth of social freedom and satisfaction which people started to perceive as real thus living in the world of illusion and shared values/ beliefs (Fairey 4).

People have become materialistic and have attached a lot of significance to the advertised images. Advertisements have mainly been based on new trends in commodities and what people must have. Therefore, most billboard advertisements reflect vanity and excesses of consumption in material objects in fashion (Gibson 8).

Post modern billboards

Post-modernism is a very difficult term to define but encompasses almost all disciplines including literature, music, art, ICT among others. The only way to comprehend this term is by having a picture of the modern world and the growth in technology, fashion, sports, and films among others.

Some define modernism as the movement away from the old standards of producing, consuming and understanding art (Hoffman 3-8). Post-modernism is based on the same ideas but favours flexibility, complexity, self-consciousness, creation of unreal/ alien arts just to name but a few (Hoffman 6).

The debate about the use of visual images and their reference to a particular cultural practice and value forms the basis for post modern categories of the billboards. These types of billboards come in diverse forms and mostly display theoretical arts, political arts plus simple but attractive images (Hoffman 10). Post modern billboards otherwise known as artist billboards reflect on current phenomena, popular culture, and politics of the day.

Post modern artists have developed artistic tools that incorporate both the pop art, images of advertisement or use of the same language to counter the effects of collision of the commercial images. Post modern billboards have ventured into world of advertisement to challenge the suppositions that have been linked to them. They have also been used to covey uncompromising messages to the mass such as issues related to HIV, terrorism, child and gender rights violations among others (Luke 6).

Billboards artists have utilized a number of inspiration and strategies to develop their work of art. For instance during 80’s most billboard artists worried less about the troubles of the commerce but concentrated on the escalating social problems (Kelly &Anoop 4). Artists expressed their feeling through billboards on issues such as civil rights, human rights, environmental protection, and other social troubling subjects.

Location and position of the billboards plays a major role in capturing of the audience attention. Most billboards are visible by both pedestrians and motorists. Road side billboards have reduced wordings or pictures since they are accessed at glanced. The term popular culture refers to the general aesthetic and common life practices that can be accounted both statistically and qualitatively.

Researchers have used the term more specifically to denote a form of culture that dominates the modern era. Popular culture is very different from the folk and high culture in the sense that it is very highly produced and consumed by the mass (Leavy et al. 3-9).

Creators of the high culture have been on the quest to appeal to the wider public through the mass media and that is where the billboards come in. They argued that billboards are more appealing to the public but at a lesser cost compared to other forms of mass media.

In the year 2002, a researcher trying to establish the costs of different forms of mass media advertisement found out that it costs 2 dollars to reach 1000 audience using billboards,5 dollars using radio, 9 dollars for magazine and about 20 dollars for newspaper or television (Leavy et al 5-20).

The research also established that the use of billboard advertising was growing faster than the traditional forms of mass media but not as fast as the internet and cables. Public perception of the billboard advertising has also gone up significantly. While the other forms of advertising are disintegrating, the advancement in technology is seeing new light besides highly level of creativity (Matt 4).

Literature review of the advertising industry shows that most people nowadays spend most of their time cars or other means of public transport than they had been doing in the past. This translates to their more exposure to the billboards than other advertisement medium (Mackinnon 6).

Billboard advertising has the potential of bringing product information to wider and specific segment of the population. A survey conducted in Florida in the year 1999 found out that billboards served about 20000 consumers and out these over 5o percent were consumers of the small scale businesses (businesses with less than 25 employees). Therefore, billboard advertising has both attracted large companies as well as small businesses (Neuborne 2-4).

Besides generating substantial employment opportunities, income and product output billboard advertisement also act as source of state/federal/local government revenue through taxes. The latest version of billboards is the digital billboard that resembles big screens. These types of billboards combine both the visual and audio effects to convey their message or image to the public (McRobbie 102).

The media encloses a preponderance of popular cultural representations, more often enforcing gender stereotypes and defining social constructs. These stereotypic influences have been felt in all aspect of social set up including leadership, education, how people define themselves, and establishment of the cultural values and biases. The most common and well documented media construct and stereotype has touched on the gender identity (Sigman1-3).

Gender labelling and their media representation through the billboards within the context of the popular culture have changed how people identify themselves in the current society (Stafford 45).

For instance young females have had changed attitudes, perspective and how they measure themselves from the media representations mostly on the billboards. The current generation especially young females have become vast consumers of the media. Women have even gone a step further to determine gender identity within the media (Stearns 3).

Enhanced education coupled with increase in income among the young females along with the current consumer identities, have had a strong impact on the feminine perceptions. This perception has been created and emphasized through the media images and pronouncements (Walsh 15). Nowadays it is very muck okay and enjoyable to look at women as bodily beautiful or sexy.

Many billboard advertisements across the world have pictures of models in revealing pose only wearing underpants. The admiring effects of these pictures have changed the way the society view women or how young women view themselves. Opponents argue that this billboard advertisement presents women as mere sex objects. Proponents on the other side argue that these give women a place and freedom to decide on their own future (Woodside 1-3).

Therefore, the excess images and stories within the popular culture surrounding female representation by the media in the billboards create a thin boundary between the real world and the images on the media. Analysts in the entertainment sector term this as a hyper reality of incessant connotations, deception and effective intensities (Gibson 3).

Consequences of the above representation are how women identify and measure themselves in the contemporary society. The media through billboard adverts have become sites for defining rules of sexual behaviours. The current generation of women feel that they are free to express their feminine side in an extremely sexual and object-like manner (Fraser 6).

Billboard signs have diversity of meaning some universal while others restricted to the local set up. The heterogeneity of billboard messages or signs defines cultural differences while the advent of globalization gives these signs or messages a peculiar universal meaning. Analysts argue that billboard advertisements are inevitable to avoid unlike the other mass media (Hoffman 6-8).

People have the choice of switching off TVs or Radios in case the message or picture being passed across is likable to them; similarly magazines or news papers can be trashed for the same reason but no one can close his/her eyes when the messages or images on the billboards are not appealing to them. Once the messages/images on the billboards have hit people’s eyes they can never be erased plus no one can ever tell where and when these billboards will pop up (Hoffman 20).

All through the history, the introduction of advanced media technologies have had considerable effects on the shape of the products and the society at large. These forms of media have prompted introduction of new products into the market and new images resulting to steady transformation of the people’s cultural practices.

Simultaneously, these cultural practices also influence the development of the new technologies, products and images. The link between the medium and message being passed across has rigorous influence on the peoples’ habits and cultural integration (Neuborne 5).

Billboard advertising has played big part in encouraging all sorts of behaviours and stereotypes. The Marlboro advert in almost all billboards across the world created an icon the world of cigarette smokers. Among the young generation the Marlboro image represented some sort of influence and autonomy.

The advert also created a false impression among some section of the public that if you smoked Marlboro cigarette you could have the cool look and traits of the Man represented on the advert. This advert originated from America but spread to the rest of the world like a wild fire introducing on its way a new generation of chain smokers (Walsh 6-7).

Billboard adverts on the youth sports centres, amusement parks, cinema halls and other locations frequented by the young people have influenced the youth a great deal towards the theme being sold. In some countries, billboards on cigarettes and alcohol have been banned due the influence it has on the younger generation.

Billboard advertisement not only influence culture in a particular like US but have also been used as globalization tools. Nowadays in whatever destination you find yourself in you can never miss out on a coca cola billboards and this has led to the creation of a popular culture in the global arena through the consumption of common/similar products (Gibson 5).

Billboard adverts have contribute a lot to the spread of the western cultures across the globe even to the remotest parts of the world. For instance American ideas and lifestyle have sneaked into other cultures through the use of billboard adverts that even the leadership of some countries feels threatened.

Citizens of the third world nations are embracing the American fashion and clothes from European fashion designers as result of the billboard adverts (McRobbie 3-5). Gucci products and Nike labels are nowadays a common feature in these countries. African natives caught the glimpse of Michael Jordan through the billboards and other forms of mass media and now even the US citizens can not believe how basketball has grown in Africa with several African players taking part in the NBA (Neuborne 5-7).

Billboard presentation have led to idolization of certain personalities from all the industries especially in US movie, music, sports, and fashion industry among others. Portraits of Angelina Jolie have made her a household name all over the world and every youth’s dream is to be like her.

Likewise, the spread of hip hop music all over the world is also attributed to the billboard adverts of the American Hip Hop icons like Shawn Combs of the Bad boy records. Hip hop music has also brought with it the Hip hop culture which includes Hip hop fashion and the American slang. Nowadays when you are walking across the street all over the world, you can no t miss out on characters dressed in baggy jeans and sneakers (Walsh 2-3).

Advertisement of different types of sports on the billboards have created die hard fans especially of soccer, American football, baseball just to name but a few. In some countries where some of these games are not so popular people get to learn about them and even develop into professional players for instance soccer in US.

Americans have become strong soccer fans and this has boosted the morale of their national team which participated in 2010 world cup in South Africa. If a person wants to dispute sports as a form of culture then he/she must visit England. There soccer/ football is part and parcel of their daily life and billboards of the major clubs are all over their cities. Sports analysts explain that most of English citizens “eat, sleep and drink football” (Stearns 1-3).

Another instance where Billboard is the greatest element of a popular culture is the American movie or Hollywood industry. Billboards of the Hollywood’s stars have had strong appeal on people of all walks of life in America and in the rest of the world.

Their influence mostly inclines towards the fashion trends such hair cuts, dress designs, make- ups, perfume label among others. It is every American dream to live like a Hollywood star. Billboards of the celebrity icons not only influences personal traits but also the way people spend their leisure time. Most people have become so enslaved on the lifestyles of these celebrities (Leavy et al 5-6).

Critics of the Use of Billboards

There is a general assumption from the advertising agencies that people are shaped by the products that are imposed on them. Ordinary people get swayed very easily with the dominant culture in place. Therefore, most billboards misrepresent societal inherent values by introducing homogeneous or popular cultural aspects which are universal in nature. Like a viral infection, these billboard messages or images stick and grow into peoples’ mind to the level that people even lose their own identity (Matt, 22).

Environmentalists have protested the use of billboards because they are threat to the environment. Many companies cut down trees to ensure good visibility or clear view is accorded to the billboards thus causing serious destruction to the public properties (municipal trees) and environmental degradation.

Another danger posed by billboard according to the critics is safety on the roads. They explain that digital billboards on the busy highways cause a lot of destruction to the motorists and even pedestrians leading to road accidents. This is always common in cases where reaction to the traffic signs is limited and there is higher concentration of information in these billboards (Neuborne 4-5).

Billboard encouraging enculturation of shame into the society

Shame has come into spotlight in the recent times as result of evolutionary concept of the origin of collaboration (Matt, 3).In the field of anthropology, shame has been considered in favor of social emotions with significant impact on conflicts and cooperation among the young people in the society.

Shame is brought by inappropriate behaviours which are in contrast to the social or in-group norms (Matt, 4).Shame represents internal control over behavioural traits and penalties for not respecting the rules laid down by the society. Therefore, shame can be described as the feelings that are brought by failure to appropriately control body or mind, following particular customary laws and regulation in the presence of the others, as taught to the young people.

Shame affects the identity of a person at the lowest level- the level of societal competency (Matt, 6). Shame illicit the feelings of guilt in this particular case the feeling of blame for a negative event or behaviour that concerns a person at a more conscious point. When feeling shame, an individual person usually lowers his face to avoid being recognized by the passersby. In our contemporary society, shame has become an integral part of human emotion and cross-cultural related to shyness.

Stearns (2) describes shame as the most powerful force propping the society and the force that id directly linked to an individual behaviour .A lot of shame is dangerous. An extreme tendency to experience shame leads to humiliation and humiliation results in anger. The conventional norms and traditions in most society has been working very hard to minimize the power of shame to nature behaviour and to justify the use of humiliation. However, the contemporary society would not hear nor listen to that.

Pornographic pictures on the billboards have become the order of the day. Some people are even trying to justify these by claiming that it is just an expression of the feminine inner beauty. The pornographic pictures translate moral decay in the society as young women starts to dress in more revealing fashion to express their freedom and independence.

The most vulnerable victims of these materials are the young children who are forced to mature at an early age. Besides the unsightly materials, these children get exposed to extreme lifestyles at a very young age such smoking of cigarettes, drinking of alcohol among others (Stearns 2-4).


Billboard in advertising began a century a go but its use has changed considerably, more so with the technological advancement in the mass media. From very simple structures which could only accommodate a few numbers of posters, billboards have transformed into digital screens that combines both visual and audio means to convey messages and images. Billboard structures can be found by the road side on top of the buildings and lately on moving vehicles.

Uses of billboards have been on the rise given its cost effectiveness as compared to other forms of the mass media. Bill boards can also a reach a large number of the targeted group within a short period of time. However, the critics of billboards argue that bill boards cause a lot of destruction to both motorist and pedestrians, thus compromises safety of these roads. Billboards contribute to environmental degradation as companies cut down trees to improve their visibility.

Billboard adverts have been used as elements of enhancing popular cultures both in US and the rest of the world. Popular cultures encompass latest trends and practices that have engulfed the majority of the population.

For instance the latest trends in fashion, film and music industry, sports, among others. Billboards have been used to enhance and spread these cultures both within and outside the country. The most common billboard adverts focuses on the world of feminine culture where almost nude images of women dominates the billboards. These have drawn both negative and positive reactions across the divide.

Work Cited

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