Ok, quiz bowl champs, can you name the four states in the in the country that ban billboards? Drum roll, please . . . Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, and Maine.
Hawaii was the first state to ban billboards in the 1920s, Vermont in 1968, Maine in the early 80s, and Alaska (by state referendum) in 1998.
So what’s with these states that ban billboards? What does this say about them and their brands, and what can we take away from it?
Good Brands Are Memorable
Good brands think differently—they’re memorable. Maybe you never noticed the absence of billboard signs in Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, and Alaska, but there’s no way to forget the natural beauty these states have to offer. Tourism abounds and remains robust and healthy year after year. Why? Because someone believed in the brand—believed in being memorable.
Good Brands Are True To Who They Are
I started thinking about the people that run businesses in these states, and the homeowners who pay property tax. “Prohibit billboards?” they must have said. “Seriously? Think what all that advertising revenue could do for our state!” Instead, people got together and chose to stay true to who they were; namely, states located in stunning natural settings, playgrounds of resplendent beauty, charm, and outdoor activity. They could have taken the me-too path to outdoor advertising revenue, as other states have done, but instead recognized that an unmarred landscape would promote tourism and benefit the state in the long run.
For all the naysayers, businesses have discovered that they’re not disabled by the anti-billboard law, and have found other ways to compete. In Vermont, many who opposed the billboard ban have been won over by widespread recognition that Vermonters live in a more attractive environment, with a recognition that the law is good for business, says Michael Lipsky, who writes for the public policy organization Demos.
Vermont’s greatly improved ambiance attracts tourists, who spend money in the state and who still manage to find B&B’s, motels and restaurants without the clutter of advertising that spoils so many American roads and highways. (1)
The biannual Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing research study found visitors spend almost $2.5 billion per year on expenses such as lodging, restaurants, bars, gasoline sales, groceries, and recreation and entertainment, including second-home expenses. To support these activities, more than 30,000 Vermonters are employed and have wages and business income of more than $850 million, and the induced impacts of wages and business income add an additional $690 million of economic activity in the state.
While there’s scant data to quantify what states like Vermont and Maine lose each year in potential billboard ad revenue, one organization broached the subject using a letter-grade system. Not surprisingly, outdoor advertiser BPS Outdoor Media made the following assertion:
“According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, iMapData did a study about the economic effects of Vermont and Maine after they banned billboards. When compared to all other states, the economy of both Vermont and Maine rated C- to F (A+ is the best possible rating and F- is the worst).'”
Funny, the happy residents and tourists who frequent Maine and Vermont each year must have missed this memo.
Good Brands Create Emotional Experience & Connection
I found out two other states, Rhode Island and Oregon, have prohibited the construction of new billboards and other communities have capped the number of billboards that can be constructed. I've often wondered why Made in New Hampshire simply doesn't have the same resonance as artisan-quality Made in Vermont or Vermont Maple Syrup or Maine Blueberries or Maine Lobster. Perhaps a seemingly small decision like banning billboards—a decision to be true to what the state represents—helped produce the outdoor activities, regional food favorites and artisanal craftsmanship that these states are known for.
- Lipsky, Michael. Vermont’s Ban on Billboards Good for Business, and People. Nov. 1, 2012 (Accessed Feb. 8, 206) http://www.demos.org/blog/vermont’s-ban-billboards-good-business-and-people