Ads from the Open Road, Volume 1

I don’t really pay much attention to billboard advertisements while I’m driving, unless it’s something fairly snappy or unique. And as much as I’d like to romanticize old billboard ads, I think the medium as a whole has been fairly bereft of great ideas. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

You’re only going to see a billboard ad clearly for what, four or five seconds? So it’s all about economy of ideas and design. Anything too complicated and you either lose a driver’s interest or cause a 20-car pileup. Neither is good for business.

I’m not holding this group of classic billboard ads up as the best ever, but I think you’ll enjoy them nonetheless. These are all courtesy the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections advertising series.


RCA (Whitey's TV) 1969 billboard advertisement

I can’t decide which part of this ’69 RCA billboard I love the most.


Anti-Ayatollah Khomeini billboard (1980)

Sammy Hagar clearly does not approve of this gem from 1980, aimed at Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.


Plymouth Fury 1968 billboard ad

I like the shape of this 1968 Plymouth Fury ad. It’s a nice change from plain old rectangular. And I love that they used the Plymouth font for the tagline too.


California Highway Patrol monkey billboard ad

There was no date on this ad from the California Highway Patrol, but it sure looks to be from the 1930s. In fact I’d be surprised if this wasn’t commissioned by the WPA.


1955 Ford car billboard ad

Forget about saving JFK or stopping Hitler — if I had a time machine I’d go back to see what this Ford beauty looked like in color and at night. God, that lighted Ford logo and wordmark must have been glorious.


Tempe Center (Arizona) billboard ad

Now this, this is a beautiful (although undated) ad. I’m sure there are several retro Windows fonts that emulate this, but nothing beats the original. Love that Tempe Center logo too. Does anyone know if this shopping plaza is still around? And if so, do they still give out free pencils and rulers?


Fresca Tastes Great in Cans

How ’bout a Fresca! This ad is undated but Fresca was introduced in 1966 and I believe this was one of the brand’s first can designs, so I’m going to go with the late ’60s as the vintage.


Viceroy Cigarettes "Travel With Taste" billboard ad

You know I just had to get one tobacco ad in here. The Duke collection doesn’t have very many great ones, so I went with this jaunty Viceroy example. There’s no date for this either but based on the disclaimer text at the bottom I’d guess 1971 or ’72.


Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) DC-8 billboard ad

Now this is a beauty, and a great way to end this gallery. Tough to date this one, but I do now that the Douglas DC-8 was manufactured from from 1958 to 1972, and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was an early customer (having chosen it over the Boeing 707). This sure looks no older than the early ’60s to me, but could be as early as ’59.

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