Texting while driving has quickly become the norm, at least in U.S. states where it continues to be legal. Not a day goes by where I’m not witness to a slow or erratic driver, the annoying behavior the direct result of a smartphone. My car horn gets a regular punch, reminding drivers, “HEY… the light just turned green!” All of which makes the notion of billboards as a driving distraction almost obsolete.
Like most things, billboards had their young and innocent days. They popped up on interstates and major thoroughfares almost as soon as cars themselves did; bright, colorful advertisements meant to plant seeds in driver brains for future purchases. At last count there were over 350,000 billboards in America alone.
Unlike smartphones however, billboards earn nothing but a passing glance as you speed by. Their images and words are simple by design so you “get the picture” in an instant. A few scientific studies went to great lengths to prove billboards increased the potential for accidents. Others showed they really had no impact at all. Whichever is true, billboards stubbornly continue a part of the urban landscape.
But no matter how I spin this topic, we’re just talking about a straightforward means of advertising. What’s so interesting about that, you ask? Well, let me tell you.
Consider the lifespan of a billboard. The artwork is created on a smaller scale, reproduced to billboard size (previously by hand, now by computer), mounted up high on a roadside frame, and then allowed to distract drivers for months. But eventually the billboard comes back down and you’re left with 700 square feet of heavy-duty used vinyl. What now – off to the dump?
Not if you’re Rareform. This company converts adverts into bags, totes, and duffles. You can purchase anything from a travel surfboard bag to a soft-sided cooler, all fashioned from billboard vinyl. You can even buy a cross-body bag for your laptop, with a cushy interior made of recycled water bottles. Talk about “walking advertisements”, eh?
I really admire people who think outside of the box (because I find it so much more comfortable inside). Rareform thinks outside of the board. They brokered deals with advertising agencies for the used vinyl, hired cleaners, designers, sewers, and photographers to produce their one-of-a-kind products, and then created a website to bring it all to you. As Rareform’s founders put it, “We’re in the business of change… and we believe billboards deserve a second chance.” Considering they stock over 50,000 unique re-creations in their warehouse, I’d say they’re on to something.
Billboards never really caught my eye until now. Sure, I enjoy their creative advertising tactics, like using several billboards spread out over a mile or two, each one containing part of a message about a business you’ll find off the next off-ramp. Or how about the ones like Chick-fil-A’s, with three-dimensional characters in front of the boards? In 2010 in North Carolina, you could find a billboard of a giant, juicy steak with a big fork sticking out of it, emitting the scent of black pepper and charcoal. Ready to grill?
Today’s billboards, of course, have gone digital. You can pack a rotation of advertisements into the same space where there used to be one. On broadcasts of Major League Baseball, you’ll see advertisements on the walls behind home plate as the camera shows the pitcher’s view of the batter. Those advertisements aren’t really in the ballpark; they’ve just been digitally applied back in the television studio.
None of these billboard tricks impress me like the one Rareform conjured up. I mean, what kind of brain looks at a billboard and goes “Hey, that could be a fashionable bag one day!” Not my brain. Rareform not only diverts tons of vinyl from landfills, it then puts it to practical re-use. Makes me want to dumpster-dive my garbage can out back to see if I can come up with a trash rehash of my own.
Some content sourced from the Rareform website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.