On the Road to Coachella? Those Billboards Are There Just for You

On the Road to Coachella? Those Billboards Are There Just for You

The roughly 50-mile stretch of California’s Interstate 10 from Riverside to Indio is mostly barren desert highway — unless you happen to be traveling in the next two weeks, during the Coachella festival, when the skies light up with hundreds of flashing, colorful rectangles displaying cryptic messages: “LOUIS THE CHILD IS TWO PEOPLE,” “HETEROSEXUALITY CAN BE CURED – JUST WATCH OMAR APOLLO ON FRIDAY,” “PSST . . . Looking for UTOPIA?”

The idea behind these I-10 billboards is to immediately focus the attention of Coachella travelers on stars and brands — EDM group Louis the Child, Omar Apollo, Travis Scott, Billie Eilish, Kendall Jenner’s 818 tequila, Olly supplements Lovin’ Libido and Happy Hoo-Ha. “The festivalgoer is a very hard-to-reach demographic — the tastemakers, the trend-setters, the content creators, the most coveted demographic,” says Sam Keywanfar, founder and CEO of MilkMoney, which provides content for 26 billboard advertisers at Coachella this year. “We’re getting them in the early part of the journey. The inventory doesn’t get lost in the clutter.”

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Each of these billboards costs between $15,000 and $40,000, according to Keywanfar, and many out-of-home advertising companies report they’ve sold more than they did in 2019, the most recent Coachella before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelations. Lamar Advertising Company, one of the top billboard operators along this stretch of I-10, reports selling 66 spots for this year’s festival compared to 64 in 2019.

“People are coming back to normal life. We’ve seen some big names that haven’t advertised in the past,” says Ian Dallimore, Lamar’s vp of digital growth. “Without having to advertise during Coachella, they can advertise on the road leading up to it.”

Coachella billboards first popped up about six years ago, Keywanfar says, when record labels had the idea to not only draw the attention of festivalgoers but the performers who travel the same stretch of I-10. Artists immediately pulled over on the highway and took selfies with their billboards, then posted them on social media. The next year, brands like Millie Bobby Brown’s Florence by Mills and the Rocketman movie followed the trend. Old-school, physical billboards are surprisingly effective — a 2021 Harris Poll reported 67% of Generation and millennial consumers remembered seeing these campaigns posted on social media, and 91% said they would share them. Billboards are prominent at other festivals, such as Stagecoach (at the same location in Indio), Bonnaroo (Manchester, Tenn.) and Jay-Z’s Made In America (Philadelphia), but Coachella has the ideal combination of social-media popularity and highway routing.

“When fans find a billboard they are drawn to and share it, that’s the holy grail,” Keywanfar says. “All the people we try to hit on an album release or product launch — they’re all going to the same place at the same time, with the one road they have to take to get there.”

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Billboard real estate along I-10 is plentiful but competitive — this year, according to AdQuick, 548 billboards lined the route from Los Angeles to the festival site, compared to 485 in 2018 and 533 in 2019. MilkMoney is the top content company in this space, working with artists and labels to distinguish their messages, from Billie Eilish’s Adobe campaign to Paris Hilton’s series of billboards advertising her virtual guest-star spot at the Neon Carnival after-party.

But not every out-of-home advertising company is seeing the I-10 billboard spike this year. In previous years, local car dealers and casinos with year-round billboard contracts sold space to bands and others during the Coachella period at a discount; after festival advertisers abruptly canceled their billboards in 2020 and 2021 when Coachella shut down due to the pandemic, the car dealers and casinos stopped including them in the contracts. This has created an inventory shortage this year, says Gino Sesto, founder of Dash Two, a Los Angeles outdoor-advertising company that has sold Coachella billboards since roughly 2015.

Sesto’s company booked 20 billboards in 2020, all of which were canceled, and just 15 as of early April this year. “It was just difficult this year,” during this phase of the pandemic, Sesto says. “There are just not a lot of huge advertisers this year. People are like, ‘We don’t know what to do.’ There’s a lot of skepticism still.”

Sesto acknowledges, though, that the Coachella billboards capture a captive audience of festivalgoers who absorb what he estimates to be 75 billboards in the 23 miles from Banning to Palm Springs. “It’s kind of a perfect storm,” he says, “because you have one way in.”

Lamar’s Dallimore adds that this year’s Coachella is perfect timing for billboards, as artists and fans reemerge after two canceled pandemic years. “We’re seeing a lot of this business come back bigger, because people feel more comfortable: ‘I’m going to live my life,’” he says. “It’s the biggest flex to say, ‘Here’s a 14-by-48-foot roadside billboard, here’s my brand.’”

On the Road to Coachella? Those Billboards Are There Just for You The roughly 50-mile stretch of California’s Interstate 10 from Riverside to Indio is mostly barren desert highway — unless you happen to be traveling in the next two weeks, during the Coachella festival, when the skies light up with hundreds of flashing, colorful rectangles…