Outdoor advertising is
one of the earliest forms of communication. "Advertising" by
writing and/or drawing on walls has been around since the very origins
of human civilization. And in this country, the "posting of
bills" has been in existence throughout our history and, in fact,
played a significant role in the American Revolution.
As an industry, the
history of outdoor advertising is highlighted by the fact that what is
today the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is the
oldest trade association in the U.S. This organization began as the
"Billposters Association" well over one hundred years ago.
What is outdoor
misconception about outdoor advertising is that it is often confused
with on-premise business signs. People will refer to
"billboard jungles" in areas where no billboards exist.
These are instances when there is a strip of roadway dominated by on-premise business signs.
advertise goods or services offered by the business on the property on
which the sign is located.
Off-premise signs (or
billboards or outdoor advertising signs) advertise goods or services
which are not sold, produced, manufactured or furnished on the
property where the sign is located.
Who owns outdoor
Probably a little over
half of the outdoor advertising signs in Wisconsin are owned by one of
the twenty or so major companies in Wisconsin which are members of the
Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin (OAAW). The other half
are owned by the business wishing to advertise to the traveling
public. For instance, a restaurant may advertise in a given community
by contracting with a billboard company like those in the OAAW, or the
restaurateur can make arrangements with a landowner to pay rent in
exchange for using his land to erect a sign. The restaurateur would
have to get the necessary permits, and have his own structure built
and an ad designed and painted, or printed.
Who uses outdoor
In Wisconsin the vast
majority of billboards advertise tourism. More than 70% of the
billboards in the State advertise hotels, restaurants, tourism
attractions, gas stations, golf courses, campgrounds, and other
tourism related businesses.
majority of business advertised on billboards across the State are
Wisconsin businesses. A small percentage of billboards advertise
is used because it is the most cost effective means of reaching
the traveling public. Billboards are much less expensive per
"contact" than are advertising on TV, radio or in
How is outdoor
regulation of the outdoor advertising industry began with the efforts
of Ladybird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. Her efforts
culminated in passage of the Federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA).
This federal legislation was designed to regulate and set standards
for billboards. The Act was never intended to eliminate all
billboards. Through the HBA, the States were ordered to enact state
laws in accordance with the Federal Act. The laws regulating
billboards are in chapter 84.30 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The
administrative rules which further delineate State law are in Trans.
201. The State law requires a permit for billboards visible from a
state highway, or federal aid primary highway, the freeways, and
interstates. The law sets standards for size, spacing, and lighting of
According to the HBA,
new billboards can only be erected in areas zoned commercial or
industrial. In unzoned areas, the billboard must be adjacent to a bona
All signs in existence
when the HBA became law and when the State adopted the federal law in
1972, which did not meet the new requirements, were grandfathered. These
are legal, nonconforming signs today.
Local jurisdictions can
also regulate outdoor advertising. Cities, villages, towns, and
counties can either defer to State law or enact their own ordinances.
Because local municipalities determine zoning, they essentially
control where billboards can be erected.