The Effectiveness of Local Atheist Billboards

This weekend, I’m off to the Kansas City Regional Atheist Meeting. It’s a brief visit, but I’m excited to talk about what campus atheist groups are up to.

I’m also curious to find out how many people are attending because of the Kansas City Atheist Coalition‘s billboard, which has gotten a lot of great coverage. The segment below focuses on the effectiveness of both atheist and Christian billboards in the KC area:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/gingerjet gingerjet

    How effective are billboards in general for any message?  I get the impression that they are cheap because they are largely ineffective method of getting a message across.  Call me when we start running commercial ads during Big Bang Theory or the next Superbowl.

    • John L

       The difference between a billboard and an atheism-themed billboard is that local television and print media almost always cover the atheism-themed billboard and generate a tempest in a teacup of free publicity.  It’s a pretty good deal.

      • Question Everything

        Though they’ll almost always do the ‘two sides’ thing and cover at least a few theist billboards as well, or interview local religious leaders for opinions (“So, this is Pastor XYZ at church Blah Blah, what’s your opinion on this latest billboard?”).  They play to both, and given that most people seem distrustful of atheists, I’d say the theists come out on top with that kind of coverage in general.

        • John L

           Yes, but the point of the billboards is often to simply alert nontheists that there is a local community of people who share their worldview.  If you can get a half-dozen atheists to come out of the woodwork immediately, and plant the seed for dozens more to consider coming out then I think its worth it, especially when it’s also shaking the general community out of the misperception that everyone around them is a Christian.

  • C Peterson

    It’s a good question to ask, how many people at your conference came because of the billboard. In general, I think it’s not an easy thing for a marketer to determine how effective billboard advertising actually is. And the situation is even harder to analyze where billboards don’t have a very well considered purpose in the first place (like many atheist billboards, but not this one).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

    They work. Here’s my experience: http://emilyhasbooks.com/the-closeted-atheist-the-billboard/

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/godvlogger?feature=results_main GodVlogger

    I think that the cost efficiency of the billboards comes from the fact that they get so much media coverage.

    Pay a couple thousand dollars for billboards, and then get free publicity via priceless media coverage on the local/regional news stations. Only atheist billboards seem to get that extra bang-for-the-buck.

    Even for those who do not directly attend the conference, they will have learned that there are local atheists, so not ‘everyone’ believes in gods, and it may help plant the seed for a search for truth.

    • Winchester

      I dunno, because although the attendance at the debate Friday nite was very good, the average attendance at the KCAC meeting this weekend was in the 75 or less range.  Not that great for all they hype and media coverage.

      Just sayin.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

        Yeah, I understand your point. We all would like to see a swifter jump in the number of out-of-the-closet, group-joining, meeting-attending atheists/freethinkers. 

        But I see this as needing a long-term time-frame. 

        30-years ago, I don’t ever remember a news story letting me know that there were groups of nonbelievers in my state or city. For a long time, I was the only person who I knew of that thought religions were just crazy. So I sort of stayed in the closet for a couple decades. Knowing that there were others with a sane, reality-based view of religion would have helped. Billboards and the associated media coverage can let truth-seekers know there are others like them out there. Even for folks who don’t run out and join an atheist group or conference that month, them may at least instead start reading/thinking/questioning more openly. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    In Maine billboards have been banned for years and to be honest, I don’t miss seeing them but I would love to see the reaction of such a billboard in Maine.

  • mildlymagnificent

    Billboards are pretty good value for money if you follow standard advertising concepts.   It’s a great deal cheaper for a billboard to contribute multiple exposures to your name/concept becoming ‘recognised’  - which requires an average of 23-26 exposures before people get your message.  

  • Gus Snarp

    I think it would be really interesting to do some actual market research on this. We’ve got a lot of cities with a lot of different kinds of atheist billboard and bus ad campaigns. I think it would actually be well worth the money to do a phone survey in several of those cities and actually come up with some statistics on how many people remembered seeing the ads and what their impressions were. We’re the scientific and rational people, right? But we keep doing billboard campaigns without anyone having a single piece of scientific evidence on their effectiveness.