Billboards have been around in one way or another since people have utilised visual communication. Even going as far back as ancient history, when messages were inscribed on caves or monuments. Advertising, while probably not apparent as far back through history, has also been around for a very very long time. Although it is unlikely the Egyptians were trying to sell their latest pyramid building equipment, nor thought giant signage to do so.
But the earliest forms of billboard advertising has probably been around since any kind of transport has been available. Even back to the horse and cart, where people could advertise where some kind of accommodation (such as an inn) could be found.
It was the advent of the automobile, however, where the notion of the billboard advertisement really took off and gathered steam. With the proliferation of mass travel, companies saw a golden opportunity to sell their products and services to people who couldn’t help but see it. Everything from alcohol to food to cigarettes, and everything in between, could be found on a billboard somewhere.
Billboard advertising even went beyond the simple notion of selling a product or a service, to be utilised for public service announcements, and even sometimes propaganda during periods like times of war. If someone had a message they wanted seen, a billboard would be a sure fire way to do it.
These days, with the explosion of the internet, billboards are probably not quite as effective as they used to be, for sheer choice of options. But that doesn’t mean they are any less prevalent. Digital billboards are able to show multiple ads, and they have made their way into new places of use, like sporting stadiums for example. Until advertising itself goes away, billboard advertising won’t be going anywhere.