Advertising: Digital Data Gives Billboard Owners More Reason to ‘Love a Good Traffic Jam’

The increasingly lengthy commute isn’t just a traffic jam. It’s a captive audience for advertisers.

The average one-way trip for commuters in the United States in 2017 was 26.9 minutes, according to the Census Bureau. That was up from 26.6 minutes in 2016 and added two and a half hours to the average time commuting over the course of the year. So even in this age of Facebook, Google, Netflix and Amazon, the companies selling seemingly old-fashioned ad space like billboards have noticed the slowing crawl.

“We love a good traffic jam,” said John Miller, vice president of sales and sales operations for Lamar Advertising in Baton Rouge, La. “We are all about eyeballs on billboards, and the increased amount of traffic is helping us.”

Lamar has 175,000 billboards throughout the United States, Mr. Miller said, adding that slower traffic had helped the company’s data collection program determine who was looking at the board and for how long. Using anonymous data from mobile devices and apps, Lamar has figured out how fast cars are passing by, how much “dwell time” drivers spend paying attention to billboards, what the demographics of the drivers are, and even where they live, travel and shop.

Roughly three years ago, Clear Channel Outdoor started its own data collection service, Radar. Using global positioning data from mobile apps that require mapping — navigation, dating, shopping and restaurant ads — the service blends third-party demographic data with information about people passing billboards to determine not only where commuters will spend, but how.

“Now we’re starting to understand what mobile devices we saw

Keep reading this article on The New York Times Media & Advertising.