Human Billboards


  • Overview
  • Reasons Why
  • Limitations
  • Cost
  • Reach & Frequency
  • Scheduling
  • General Impact
  • Audience Qualities
  • Responsiveness of Audience
  • Advertisers Successfully Using Human Billboards
  • Interesting Qualities


With the constant competition between companies, advertising is a crucial component to success. A generally less talked about (but growing) type of outdoor advertising is Human Billboards. Human billboards are a type of outdoor advertising that are essentially an interactive type of advertising as well. Human billboards are also known as human directional sign. Human directional signs refer to people who put advertising messages on themselves for instance on boards, posters slung around their necks or more commonly on T-shirts, trousers, hats and various apparel (Hay 2010).
The earliest form of Human Billboards dates back to 1221. The first known human billboard was when Sandwich, England, shop owner Fibber Pillsbury first used the "sandwich board" type of human billboard to promote the lunch specials and smoking room at his cafe, the Pillsbury Follies. (Green 2005)


Reasons Why:

The main reason why human billboards are an effective advertising method is because they allow you to reach a broad variety of audiences and they also allow you to narrowly target your message as you please. A human billboard is perhaps the ultimate advertising display because your marketing strategy now includes a real person; ready to answer any and all questions about you and your business. (Miglio 2009). Another attractive aspect of Human Billboards is the amount of attention they are able to attract. These billboards are constantly moving which helps to generate awareness. The effectiveness of human billboards will depend on the amount of people present or the amount of traffic in the area at the time of advertising, however if there is a reasonable amount of traffic human billboards are very successful in gaining recognition.

“Billboards create brand awareness and strong name recognition among passers-by. This is due to the colorful, innovative, and catchy product and service advertisements which are likely to have a more positive impact on the minds of people” (Rampur).


There are a few drawbacks that come along with Human Billboards. Since the ad can’t actually be any bigger than a human body, the amount of information you can convey in an advertisement is limited. This is not only due to space limitations but also to the amount of time someone looks at the advertisement for. Usually Human Billboards are only glanced at while walking or driving past, so the information has to be short and sweet and generally right to the point.

Also a Human Billboard might be viewed as a sign of bad economy. Which in turn might limit the amount of people that will respond to the advertisement. According to Jim Curran, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida , “The human billboard approach probably makes sense in the current economy, when business owners are strapped for cash and may not be able to afford conventional advertising” (Neill 2009).


While costs will vary from billboard to billboard, human billboards are relatively an inexpensive form of advertising. Normally, the costs that are put into human billboards are those to make the actual advertisement and those to hire someone to physically display the advertisement. The cost to hire someone to display a human billboard is usually between minimum wage and ten dollars an hour (Green 2005). According to Wally Kelly, CEO and chairman of CBS Outdoor Advertising, “We’re (outdoor advertising) still probably the most inexpensive medium for reaching all demographics that exist in the market” (Blum & Mcclellan, 2006). Human billboards are cost efficient because they have guaranteed constant exposure, because people are constantly out walking around or traveling in their cars.

Reach and Frequency:

 The reach and frequency of human billboards will vary from specific billboard to billboard. However outdoor advertising (which includes human billboards) is growing significantly due to the growth of consumers outside of their homes. Today the rate of consumers “on the go” is growing which provides outdoor advertising with a higher reach potential. Human billboards can determine their reach by studying traffic patterns and placing their ads at the times of highest traffic. These types of billboards are able to reach a variety of consumers that are all “in transit.” The frequency at which these types of billboards reach a specific consumer is hard to control. Due to the fact that human billboards typically stand in generally the same area advertising to any and all target audiences around, it is hard to determine the frequency at which they reach consumers. The frequency will depend solely on the consumer and whether they travel the same route every day and see the billboards numerous times or not. Consumers are able to control their frequency with human billboards because they can choose to avoid the billboards and travel a different way if they choose. One way to increase frequency is to consistently advertise in the same location at similar times. By doing so, there is a greater chance to reach people continuously who might also have the same traveling habits every day.


Scheduling when to advertise is a huge component to success for a business. Many companies schedule their billboards to be out on display at the highest traffic times. Advertising all the time, at every month and day of the year, is rarely the selected approach. Depending on the nature of the business, continuous pulsing or flighting scheduling strategies might be used. For instance Liberty Tax Service uses human billboard advertising every year. Liberty Tax Service uses a person dressed in a statue of liberty costume waving to commuters. Liberty Tax Service uses the flighting scheduling strategy by using their human billboards for a few months every year during the busy tax season only. “Beginning in late January, just as sure as your W-2's are going to be in the mail, you're sure to see one or more of these costumed marketers on the corner, waving or dancing to passers-by.”(Guertin 2006). liberty.jpg

General Impact:

Human billboards create a unique spin off of traditional billboards in the outdoor advertising world. While traditional billboards are constantly on display, the likelihood that consumers are actually engaging with them is slim. Human billboards however allow audiences to engage with them. Another human being in motion right in front of you is generally going to gain your attention more than just a stationary billboard. The constant motion and ability to essentially communicate with the advertisement has a huge impact on its audiences. The sense of involvement makes consumers more likely to stop for longer to analyze the advertisement.

Audience Qualities:

So who is the specific audience of human billboards? Actually, there is not a specific target audience except for the fact that it is an audience in motion. The audience is not a specific age group or sex, but in general any consumer who is “on the go” and “in transit.”Since target audiences are defined by their consumption behavior (Li), being able to have a broad target audience gives just about any product the potential to succeed with human billboards

Responsiveness of Audiences:

This interactive form of advertising helps to bring in new customers. Human billboards are usually displayed close to or even right in front of the business it is advertising for. Given the close proximity of the business to the advertisement, potential customers are more likely to go into the business because it is right there. A lot of businesses feel like these advertisements get people’s attention. This “in your face” method of advertising almost always draws in costumers.

According to Mike Marback, owner of a Liberty Tax Service franchise, human billboard advertising is the cornerstone of his business growth (Guertin 2006). Audiences are highly responsive when there is a lot of walking traffic near the advertisement (Green 2005). While car traffic generates reach and awareness it is not necessarily getting the audiences into the stores. When there is heavy walking traffic consumers are more likely to stop into the business because they are already nearby.

Advertisers Who Are Successfully Using Human Billboards:

Many businesses are currently using this method of advertising. One of the major advertisers are Liberty Tax Service who use human billboards of waving statues of liberty every year during tax season. (Guertin 2006). Also many local Jiffy Lube locations are said to heavily use human billboards as a form of advertising (Guertin 2006). It is not only major corporations that engage in this form of advertisement; many local owners use this method as well. Not only for the cheap nature of this advertising but as well as for reaching the local consumers right outside around their business. Actually this method works best for local businesses that are located right near where the advertisement is taking place.

One other major human billboard advertiser is a web hosting company called CI Host. CI Host recently hired a man named Jim Nelson to tattoo their advertisements on his forehead (Fairbank 2003). CI Host reportedly paid Jim Nelson $7,000 to display their company’s advertisement for five years (Fairbank 2003).

Interesting Qualities:

The most interesting quality of human billboards is the fact that they are “alive.” Not very many other advertisements can talk back to you and answer potential questions. Human billboards successfully attract people because they are alive just like the consumers. These billboards can interact with their audiences, which most advertisements cannot do. This innovative advertising technique allows people to provide immediate feedback and even an immediate response to the billboard by either going into the business or continuing to pass the billboard.


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