Did he simply do it for the ‘gram? Or was everyone in on it from the start?
Those were the questions circling erstwhile “Jackass” bad boy Steve-O a few months ago when he pulled off a stunt that, whatever else, got him plenty of attention.
The comedian duct-taped himself to a billboard in Los Angeles advertising his upcoming comedy special. How did anyone know about it? He posted to Instagram Stories, telling his more than 5 million followers that he felt good but “kinda sore” after 90 minutes on the board.
The stunt quickly went viral, and people were talking about Steve-O in a way they hadn’t since, oh, the early 2000s. By the time Los Angeles firefighters showed up to get him down, Steve-O’s name was trending across social media, and he’d racked up loads of free publicity for the special, streaming on his website.
The stunt gained national coverage and the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in exposure for Steve-O, whose audience for the board would have been limited to cars driving past North Cahuenga Boulevard if he hadn’t harnessed the power of social media to share the stunt.
Steve-O’s approach is no longer atypical. We’ve entered a new era for both social media and out of home, where the two have merged into something new where stars take selfies of themselves with their billboards and post them on Instagram, to everyone’s delight. Instaboards? Billgrams? Whatever they are, they’re effective.
Remember the digital picture frames everyone bought the grandparents circa 2012, which scrolled through the highlights of your camera roll, like a carefully curated glimpse into your life?
Instagram has turned billboards into the same thing. Celebrities are furthering their cults of personality with the shots of themselves next to billboards that sell their goods.
It’s an example of how influential social media has become in our daily lives. It’s also just a cool, fun thing that tons of clients want to try. We’ve seen the trend snowballing over the past few months, and we think the evolution is fascinating.
The Influence of Instagram
Instagram has become the place to be seen among celebrities and influencers. If you need convincing on that, consider:
- 1 billion people use the platform each month
- Almost two-thirds of users log in daily
- They spend an average of 28 minutes using the app each day
It also skews young, and advertisers like that, obviously. Two-thirds of adults 18-27 use the platform, and it’s the most popular social network among teens — yes, even bigger than Snapchat. And it’s relevant to out of home advertising. One study found one in four Americans have posted an image of an outdoor ad to Instagram.
Instagram Discovers the Billboard
No one can say when exactly the current trend began. It’s been a few years, certainly, and the billboard selfie trend can take many different forms:
- Self-promotion: In the case of Steve-O (and he’s not alone), the billboard selfie is a type of self-promotion. It’s a way to call attention to an upcoming special or album or movie release that shows people “this person has hit the big time.” Not just anyone gets a billboard on the Sunset Strip, so if this person received one, they must be important — hence spreading that word with a selfie.
- Contest: We’ve run a couple of these, and they’re a lot of fun. A celebrity may post a photo of their board and ask people to find it (as in the case of our recent billboard for Tasha Cobbs) or identify the area where it’s been posted. Contests are a way to engage people, and so suddenly you have thousands of engagements with a post that would otherwise just be a static image.
- Doing it for the fans: A lot of celebrities use their “made it” moment of getting their first billboard to post a selfie and combine it with a shout-out to their fans — “without you, I never would have gotten my face in Times Square.” This can come off as spoiled, silly or sincere, depending who’s posting it, but people appreciate the sentiment.
- Just having fun: There’s also a (small) subset of celebrity that thinks being a star is cool and enjoys the experience for what it is. They might see the billboard and post on a whim, not as any type of concentrated outreach effort but just because they liked it. This is more likely to be a younger, rising star, not an established influencer.
The Ultimate ‘Hi, Mom!’ Moment
Why do people want to be celebrities, really, other than showing their parents how they’ve succeeded? Social media is a platform for people to share their success, and the ultimate form of success is having a billboard with your name and image plastered across it. No wonder so many celebrities want to share.
The great thing about the billboard selfie is that it then becomes a historical monument on the social page. People can still see the board months later when they scroll through a celebrity’s Instagram feed, giving it that digital picture frame element. These days, if it’s not documented digitally, it didn’t happen, and billboard selfies provide a fun way to keep track of a campaign or look back on a star’s rise.
Taking a selfie with the billboard and posting it also boosts engagement for celebrities, so they have an incentive to put these photos on their timelines. (Yes, they do care about getting more followers, even those who already have millions.)
Normal People and Billboards
Instagram selfies with billboards aren’t just for the rich and famous, though that’s the most common. You can also find, especially right now with billboards still coming back from last spring’s quarantine, boards with personal messages aimed at regular people. We saw some fun ads for dads and grads earlier this year, and we anticipate you’ll see a similar appetite for Valentine’s Day.
Posting a selfie on Instagram to memorialize a billboard buy creates the long-term memory most people are after when they make the purchase. Whether you’re proposing to a special someone or wishing a couple well on their new baby, billboards can deliver personal messages writ large, and Instagram preserves the moment.
Interested in a billboard that people will want on their Instagram feed? Get in touch with DASH TWO today to discuss your options.