• Billboards Are A Form of Speech

    The billboard-tax lawsuit in Cincinnati has focused attention on “noncommercial” speech on billboards.    Lamar Advertising and Norton Outdoor are challenging Cincinnati’s targeted billboard tax and higher fees on free speech grounds.    Therefore, the court is examining billboard content, including controversial and political viewpoints.

    Billboards are a valuable channel for non-commerical speech.  Insider asked John Barrett of Barrett Outdoor Communications to talk about a campaign running on his billboards.

    John Barrett, Barrett Outdoor

    John, what’s the public-service campaign running on Barrett Outdoor’s I-95 billboards?

    A fascinating idea, that the spiritual and the rational (science) can co-exist.  The creative was designed by Master of Fine Arts (MFA) alums from the Yale School of Art, a local collective called Class Action.  They chose a red-white-and-blue patriotic color palette, on purpose, with letterforms that measure more than six feet tall . . . a sharp-looking contrast.

    Do these billboards generate debate?

    Of course!  Comments on Facebook reflect a wide range of viewpoints about religion, science, and politics . . . exactly the type of speech that the First Amendment was designed to protect.

     Is this campaign paid or unpaid?

    The current campaign is paid for by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  I’ve worked with the art collective from Yale for decades, posting all sorts of creative on topics as diverse as domestic violence, reproductive rights, and the policies of two presidents.  Much of the billboard space was donated.

     How big is the current campaign, where is it running, and how long will it last?

    Three bulletins are posted along high-traffic I-95 near West Haven, CT, from September 5 through the end of the month.  These messages will get millions of views, as voters and candidates approach the mid-term elections.

    Does controversial copy worry you?

    In general, debate is good.  There are appropriate limits on copy.  I’m proud that billboard inventory is a platform for expression, including competing ideas.


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