The Outdoor Advertising Association of America Slide Library spans the years 1891 through the 2000s, with the bulk of the collection originating in the 1950s and later. The collection documents over a hundred years of outdoor advertising primarily in the United States, plus some international campaigns from several other continents. The Slide Library is a large collection, almost entirely comprised of slides of billboards, exhibiting a grand range of graphic artistry, advertising campaigns, and marketing strategies. A smaller group of images supports the ad collection with views of artwork, billboard construction and other related images. In addition to over 62,000 slides, there are a few early glass slides, as well as transparencies, a small number of paper files, and six audiocassettes accompanying slide presentations. Many images were submitted by outdoor advertising companies over a number of years to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) as entries in annual national competitions to determine the best poster designs. The OAAA currently sponsors the OBIE Awards, which were preceded by awards programs under various names and sponsorships starting in the early 1930s. The award is modeled after the ancient Egyptian obelisk, considered by many the earliest form of outdoor advertising. Indeed much of the collection can be seen as evidence of this awards program although only the Award Nominees Series contains slides labeled as such. Other slides probably were transferred to OAAA when companies cleaned out their back files, though the precise sources of many items are unknown. The slides were maintained at OAAA primarily as a large supply of creative examples for member companies. Researchers interested in the following subjects may find the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Slide Library especially helpful: the outdoor advertising medium itself, advertising awards, advertising design, billboard construction, and commercial art, as well as the many outdoor advertising companies, advertisers, and advertising campaigns represented.
The images, designed to attract mass audiences, depict part of American society's history - a history of consumer attitudes and desires. The collection is therefore a valuable tool in formulating not only a pictorial development of the outdoor advertising industry but of societal norms and opinions. The ads speak to the creativity of artists and designers, but they also convey a rich story of how these creators saw society at large, especially in the United States. Perhaps more importantly, ads reveal how corporations and designers felt America wanted to see itself. Such visual richness underlies the primary goals of selling goods and services and promoting ideas for the public good. There are thousands of product advertisements but also many public service ads, political issue ads, and even Happy Birthday greetings in the collection. Billboards are one direct link from corporate America, various interest groups, and their advertising specialists to consumers; and a succinct one-sided conversation designed to spur them to action.
In contrast to other types of advertising, outdoor ads were designed with the fast-moving traveler in mind. The collection documents well the evolution of the billboard's attempt to reach those on the move, especially drivers. With careful thought to what would quickly provoke interest, advertisers presented a huge range of thought from text-free images of abstract artwork to direct discourse (e.g. Vote for Nixon). Because posters were displayed for only limited time periods, and because their physical size makes them impractical to store, photography is the primary method of capturing billboard images. Most billboard photos - whether print or slide - were created to document the work of the company which posted them for their business use.
Within the Slide Library, the creative output of many outdoor advertising companies is documented, although particular creators of many of the ads are unknown. Foster and Kleiser is well represented in the collection. Other companies named in the collection include Naegele, Pacific, Turner, Eller, Donnelly, Columbus, General Outdoor, Patrick, Gannett, Lamar, United, and many others. Thousands of national campaigns are represented, but many local ads are present as well. Outdoor formats range from 19th century posters to "multi-vision" boards that automatically change views with the use of three-sided boards. Most images are of actual billboards, posters, and other outdoor advertising formats in the field, while a sizable portion are just images of the ad design itself with a plain background. There are some slides of stock posters ("Your brand name here") and other forms of outdoor advertising such as bus cards, street furniture, and truck side advertising. The vast majority of the advertisements are in English.
The first three series make up the bulk of the collection: the Award Nominees Series, the Chronological Series, and the Topical Series (by far the largest of the three). These series are made up almost completely of slides showing advertisements, usually in billboard format. All series are described further within the container list. The only other series with a sizable number of advertisements is the International Posters Series. This is where the largest concentration of international ads is found, although there are a few scattered within the other main series. Ads may also be found scattered throughout the Presentations and Presentation Slides Series.
Several additional small series contain images of related content, providing support and context to the advertisements. These include the Construction and Creation Series, the Artwork Series, the Street Scenes and Approaches Series, and the Other Outdoor Advertising Related Images Series. The Presentations and Presentation Slides Series adds insight by showing some of the internal conversation between directors and trainees, advertisers and advertising creators, and more.
The most direct route to locate any identified ad is through the Resource for Outdoor Advertising Description (ROAD) database, available in early 2003. Information about most slides in the collection has been added to this database. Researchers will be able to search for specific attributes of ads such as brand or company name, product type, and headline, as well as other types of information including slide number, date, collection name, image type, image color, outdoor advertising type, and special notes. Many database records also contain a searchable field with the outdoor advertising company's name (posting company), a field indicating if the billboard is in a rural or urban setting, information on the presence of women, children, ethnic individuals, or famous people in the ad, and the billboard's geographic location. Various slide series were entered into the database differently. Multiple searches may be required for comprehensive searching. For more information, consult Research Services Staff (AskRL@duke.edu).
For more contextual information, use this collection in conjunction with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Records, especially that collection's Physical Structure Series, and Photographs, Slides, and Negatives Series. Closely related collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library include the John Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports, the John Paver Papers, the John Browning Papers, the Duplex Advertising Co. Records, the H.E. Fisk Collection of War Effort Mobilization Campaigns, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Records, the Outdoor Advertising Poster Design Collection, the Garrett Orr Papers, the R.C. Maxwell Company Records, the Howard Scott Papers, and the Strobridge Lithographing Company Advertisements.