I walked into my local grocer the other day and was surprised and pleased to see a brand new Samsung video screen hung high over the counter and used as an Electronic Message Center (EMC). With its text and graphics capabilities, it is everything you could want a sign to be: vivid,clear, attention grabbing, and memorable. It’s also cost effective.
The sight made me think back over the history of variable message signs, and reflect on just how far we’ve come in the sign industry.
Mechanically variable signs have been around for a longtime. Think about movie theater marquees, for example, where letters and numbers were physically attached to a back-lit grid, laboriously spelling out the names of movies and their stars. You still see similar technology displaying prices at many gas stations.
Later, sign experts developed graphic display cases, which became popular at airports, on buses, in transit shelters and other outdoor advertising installations. Essentially a “light box” behind a translucent film conveying the desired information in any combination of text and graphics, they made it fast and easy to change one sign message for another.
From Mechanics to Electronics
These early approaches required physical activity to change the message, so the search began for mechanical, electromechanical and electrical systems to accomplish copy changes remotely.
One of these innovations is still in use at many National Basketball Association venues, where a series of scrolls are rolled up and down by synchronized motors, quickly changing the displayed message – 30 or 40 feet wide – at the touch of a button.
Other variable systems relied on banks of light bulbs that could be selectively illuminated to spell out a few hard-wired messages. Remember the sign cabinets that became popular outside banks, presenting time and temperature displays in a regular sequence?
What’s On, Ma?
As modern television screens became bigger, thinner, and cheaper, they were quickly adopted by forward-thinking sign makers, creating a whole new paradigm for what signs can do: Driven by computers, these video screens can instantly change from one image to another, supporting an almost infinite variety of static and moving images that have an almost hypnotic attraction for the human eye.
This 21st Century technology makes possible advanced EMCs that not only function as conventional signs, but can respond to the inquiries and initiatives of passersby, like this one.
Although an EMC is still somewhat more expensive than older sign technologies to install, the ongoing costs of operation and sign-changing are remarkably low. And the advantages of an EMC are many, including:
- Becoming a landmark in your community.
- Functioning as your business’s owned and operated advertising “channel.”
- Working for your business 24 / 7 / 365.
- Actively attracting and directing customers to visit your business.
- Varying the message to be topical and up-to-the-minute,and to speak more directly to the people viewing it.
Yes, we’ve come a long way from movable type to EMCs. And we at Metro Sign and Awning are proud to be part of this history, and to be able to provide our customers with the best in efficient, effective signage technology. Please visit us here to see how you can benefit.