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Ask Matt ... about tourism and Tar Heel signs

The Tourism Development Authority bought billboards to promote Hendersonville. The Tourism Development Authority bought billboards to promote Hendersonville.


Q. I understand there is a “Vacation in Hendersonville” billboard outside Atlanta. How many of those are there?

None right now, but for a three-month period during the winter off-season, there were three: one on I-85 outside Atlanta, one on I-20 in Columbia, SC, and one on I-85 in the Charlotte area. According to Henderson County Tourism Development Authority Director Beth Cardin all the billboards were positioned in heavy traffic areas “just a gas tank away” from here. Lamar, the nationwide advertising company that owns the billboards, lists vehicular traffic at the Atlanta billboard site at 2.2 million “impressions” per week. In the billboard industry, an impression is the method of counting all motorists who pass and read the signs. Each of the other two billboard locations had impression counts over 400,000.
The science for billboard advertising is more complex than just putting up a sign. Cardin said that the billboards are used in conjunction with other marketing tools including print and digital media. For example, a billboard might trigger something TDA has used in magazine ads. “The idea is to build name recognition for Hendersonville and plant a seed in the motorist’s mind — like ‘Gee, I could be up on that mountaintop and not fighting traffic down here,’” said Cardin.
The response has been positive. Cardin said that many visitors have mentioned the billboard ads to her staff. Great care was taken in selecting the mountain scene and wording on the billboard. “We wanted the sky to pop out so we didn’t use typical green and gray colors,” said Cardin. “When the speed limit is 70 mph, the less clutter the better.”
So whose legs are protruding from the blue tent? We don’t know but we have a crack team of researchers on the hunt. Stay tuned.

Q. Driving into North Carolina on I-85 I saw a large green sign that boasts the Tar Heels 2017 men’s basketball championship. Are there similar signs on I-26?

Eight signs were erected across the state, two each on I-95 and I-85 just inside the Virginia and South Carolina lines, two on I-40 in the Chapel Hill area, one on I-85 north of Charlotte, and one on I-40 in Haywood County at the Tennessee State Line. I-26 has no signs but two immediately became problematic. One I-85 sign caught the attention of UNC-Charlotte students who had it moved because it was in the “backyard” of their campus. NCDOT admitted it was an oversight. Its new home is on I-77 near the South Carolina border. And a sign on I-40 in Raleigh was mysteriously removed from its posts shortly after it went up in late January. This one seemed to be too close to Carter-Findley stadium where the N.C. State plays home games. The sign has yet to be replaced.
NCDOT approved the signs last November. I suspect they were patterned after the signs that South Carolina’s highway department erected after Clemson’s 2017 national championship in football. Each Tar Heel sign cost $2,000 and UNC-Chapel Hill officials said that no public funds were used. After two years, the signs must come down.
I found it puzzling why the Tennessee line location was chosen. Traffic on I-26 just down the road in Polk County at the state line is significantly higher, by 8,000 vehicles per day.