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.
I can’t decide which part of this ’69 RCA billboard I love the most.
Sammy Hagar clearly does not approve of this gem from 1980, aimed at Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.