Neon, lamps, LEDs: The past and the present in outdoor advertising

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov

This article develops the subject of the previous issue and discusses modern technology and approaches to illumination of cities, separate city districts and individual houses as well as the latest tendencies in outdoor advertising. As we have already written, the explosive spread of neon signs in North America occurred in 1960-80-ies. The central city streets were literally flooded by neon lights.

Gradually this fad crossed the boarders of the USA and took Japan, Korea, Europe and Latin America by storm. Neon signs were in high fashion and every store had to “wear” it.

However as the time passed, the fast growing computer and digital technologies suggested new potential applications that could be used for outdoor advertising. Old neon systems have been worn out with time and many countries (even Japan and the USA) had to decide what was there to do with them: to repair and upgrade or to substitute with something else. An expensive repair of an old, no longer fashionable system and no so effective neon installation is hardly an option for a shrewd businessman.

The remaining option was to substitute the whole installation. But with what?

  • The latest LED signs and screens as well as US-made lamp screens remain too expensive both in the initial price and in maintenance expenses. In the near future there will be no significant price reductions while maintenance expenses have a marked tendency for growth.
  • Even the most modern neon systems have limited capacity in animation that drastically reduces their efficiency as advertising systems. People quickly get accustomed to seeing the unchanging picture and stop noticing them altogether. As a result, huge neon billboards and roof installations are perceived only as a bright source of light in night time.
Neon outdoor advertising Lamp screen in outdoor advertising
Neon outdoor advertising Lamp screen in outdoor advertising

This was the very reason why engineers around the world started inventing new composite installations. For example, a combination of a small LED or lamp screen and a neon sign. Or a merger between a neon billboard and a marquee system.

Outdoor LED screen Combination of lamp screen and high resolution LED screen
Outdoor LED screen Combination of lamp screen and high resolution LED screen

The correspondents of our magazine found out that the latest research of American and Russian engineers has resulted in the development of new technological solutions. They are very close (especially in case of large size installations) to neon animation systems in terms of price but considerably exceed neon systems and even other technologies for large roof or street installations in terms of functions and efficiency.

This new solution is based on the new generation of full-color lamp technology that was unavailable until now. Better reliability and longer life of lamps coupled with increased brightness and other improved characteristics allow to achieve much better results at a bargain cost. Taken in isolation or in combination with other advertising systems, this solution stands to drastically improve the efficiency of outdoor advertising.

In fact, it becomes possible to resolve several tasks with one stroke:

  1. To substitute outdated neon installations with minimal losses;
  2. To use the already available supports and power supply;
  3. To utilize the same outdoor advertising site;
  4. To significantly improve outdoor advertising potential of the installation by using it to broadcast live video or TV signal that was impossible until now.

And all of this can be achieved at a price similar with the modernization of a neon system. Let us not forget that these installations elegantly merge with the architecture of modern cities, decorate individual buildings and city squares and illuminate buildings and parts of streets. In many cases such bright installations in large metropolis serve as navigators or lighthouses for pedestrians and drivers while providing effective and beautifully presented advertising commercials and socially valid information.

Moreover, this new development allows even smaller companies to purchase updated outdoor screens and utilize advantages of these relatively affordable systems in an absolutely new modern trend – advertising and mass information systems that include live outdoor video and television.

As far as reliability is concerned (not theoretically calculated but tested in real conditions in various climatic zones around the world), these systems have no rivals. For example, such system in Novosibirsk, Russia, (where temperature gradient reaches 80 degrees Celsius throughout the year) reported no lamp or electronic failures in the last 2 years.

Lamps that seemed to have been squeezed out of the market by LEDs have made a dramatic return. The latest generation of lamps was developed for the US auto industry and was adapted for use in the outdoor advertising area due to the modern digital computer technology.

What will happen next? It is difficult to make predictions, but most probably all three technologies – neon, lamp and LEDs – will stop competing in outdoor advertising and will complement each other in individual market niches.

However, changes in utilization, additional applications and functions of each of these technologies are inevitable. Here are several tendencies that are becoming more and more evident in various countries:

  1. Judging by actual changes in the North and Latin America, Japan and Korea the place of purely neon installations on the roofs and streets will be taken by large screens based on the latest lamp technology in combination with marquee. This is a logical change that indicates the arrival of the new technological generation.
  2. In other places old lamp electronic screens (that were used as signs or marquee) will be replaced by LED displays and marquee.
  3. In the area of mid-sized screens there will be a peaceful coexistence of lamp and LED advertising systems. Moreover, as the new lamp technology is further developed, lamp screens will come closer to the LED in their properties, especially in resolution.

It is quite clear that each of these technologies will stay in use for dozens of years and thanks to these technologies our cities, office buildings, hotels, casinos, restaurants and cafes will become brighter and more attractive.