A billboard at the corner of Harden and Gervais streets flashes day and night to passersby. (Photo courtesy of Lamar Advertising of Columbia)
Billboards in Columbia recently commemorated the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
The reason a foreign monarch is being celebrated in South Carolina, hundreds of miles away from England, is because digital billboards, which can be changed easily, are not just for business ads any more. They also can be used privately, for birthday wishes, or to observe major world events, including Florida’s devastation from Hurricane Ian.
These personalized or commemorative messages, while not a new phenomenon, show up in Columbia thanks to advertising companies, such as Lamar Advertising of Columbia and Grace Outdoor Advertising, and the increasing popularity of the flexible digital signs.
“Using billboards in a way to celebrate, whether it’s through an anniversary or birthday or graduation, has been an evolving use for families and communities all over our (Grace Advertising’s) territory, which is predominantly across South Carolina, Atlanta and Charlotte,” said Liz Stonecypher, the general manager for Grace Outdoor Advertising.
She said she has seen everything from friends teasing each other for turning 30 to a loving husband wanting to do something special for his wife with poor vision.
“I think on a family-by-family basis in communities, especially in close-knit communities, it’s very much something that we see” increasing, Stonecypher said.
Grace advertising began seeing more requests for personalized billboards two years before COVID, and it has seen more requests after the pandemic, Stonecypher said.
“During COVID, when there were no opportunities to publicly celebrate, we could not gather for graduation exercises, let alone in your homes, even with family at a distance or otherwise,” Stonecypher said. “Digital billboards in particular were a great avenue for families to affordably and publicly to show their joy and excitement for these accomplishments. We’re very pleased to be a part of that.”
Grace advertising rolled out its digital billboards more than 10 years ago, and Lamar, in 2006, said Stephanie Mayberry, a sales manager at Lamar. Space on the billboard can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
In total, Lamar has over 40 digital devices, Mayberry said.
The billboards are popular because images can be uploaded and displayed within days. And when people see the advertisement streetside, the company gets more requests for the service, Mayberry said.
As for why Queen Elizabeth II was being commemorated in Columbia, South Carolina — Mayberry said Lamar wanted to do something for the community.
Lamar receives art from its corporate office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Grace Advertising makes it an annual goal to commemorate important events, people or accomplishments.
“During certain months, Black History Month or others, we take a moment and try to celebrate with particular interest in the Columbia area,” Stonecypher said.
Marquita Briggs is a small business owner in Columbia. She uses Lamar to advertise for her salon, Prolific Styles of Art.
But as her grandmother’s 90th birthday approached, and Briggs saw one of Lamar’s birthday billboards and had an idea.
“I just wanted to do something special for my grandmother,” Briggs said.
Briggs placed a black, rose-accented design with her grandmother’s face on a billboard near her the woman’s house. Briggs said other people quickly asked her how they could do it themselves.
Her grandmother’s reaction: She loved it. She thought she was a star when she saw her own face on the board, Briggs said.
“She felt special,” Briggs said.