Runoffs Show How Billboards Have Become A Platform For Free Speech

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 30, 2020

Anyone who has pondered whether billboards are media (or not) could find the answer in the expensive, high-stakes Senate runoff election in Georgia.

Billboards are media because:

  • They display ideas and debate, for and against the candidates

  • A variety of speakers communicate via billboards, including the candidates themselves and groups across the political spectrum

  • They inspire connections to other media, including digital, broadcast, and print

And, for good measure, billboards in Georgia display humor, perhaps in short supply as we close 2020 and the presidential election. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, a Democrat challenging incumbent Senator David Perdue (R-GA), posted billboards with his slogan “Vote Your Ossoff.”



The outcome of Georgia’s two-at-once Senate runoff will determine party control of the US Senate as Joe Biden becomes president (he narrowly carried Georgia in the November 3 presidential election). 

The runoff election in Georgia is on January 5, 2021, necessitated because no Senate candidate got a majority of votes on November 3. The Reverend Raphael Warnock of Atlanta is challenging Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who was appointed to the seat when Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) retired for health reasons at the end of 2019. Senator Perdue, challenged by Ossoff, is seeking another six-year term.

Ideas and Debate

Like in Utah, where competing billboards praised and ridiculed Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) after he supported an article of impeachment against President Trump, billboards in Georgia promote and criticize the politicians. This type of debate, analogous to political ads on other media, is speech protected by the First Amendment.

Classic billboard copywriting calls for few words, like this ad attacking incumbent Senators Perdue and Loeffler:

Variety of Speakers

On the political right, a group called Turning Point Action is supporting Perdue and Loeffler. Founded by evangelical Christian Charlie Kirk, Turning Point bought billboards in the Georgia runoff proclaiming that “FREEDOM IS ON THE LINE.”

On the left, the anti-Trump Really American Super PAC is attacking Perdue and Loeffler on billboards in Georgia. Founder Justin Horwitz is a self-described social entrepreneur, media strategist, and political activist. Both Horwitz and Kirk have roots in the Chicago area.

Connection to Other Media

Political billboards are news for news media, favorite images for social media, aspirational goals for fundraisers, and omni-present to voters.

Georgia provides proof.  You can find Really American PAC founder Justin Horwitz’ description of his billboards... via YouTube. Or, view his group’s billboard pitch on Twitter. Or, like millions on the road, drive past them.

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