A sampling of the many I-95 billboards advertising personal injury law firms in spring 2023. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

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Top Dog Law. Rosenbaum Injury Law. Lundy Law. Pond Lehocky. And of course, Morgan & Morgan — the folks behind “Jawn Morgan” and the company whose massive advertising budget is likely helping escalate the crowded legal services battle playing out over I-95.

Philly’s interstate billboards, which can rent for around $6,000 per week, present an ever-changing mix of messages.

But personal injury law firms dominated the fertile landscape on a recent spring weekend, showing up in nearly 20% of available highway spots along the stretch between PHL Airport and the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

The frequency of displays trumpting litigation skills and financial settlements — 17 of 92 billboards recorded by a reporter — isn’t necessarily a function of Philly’s reputation as a plaintiff lawyers’ paradise. It’s part of a larger trend in outdoor advertising, according to execs at Outfront Media, which trafficks several billboards in the region.

“As far as the legal category goes, that’s definitely a trend that we are seeing increases in many of our larger markets including Atlanta, Detroit, and New York,” Victoria Mottesheard, Outfront’s regional VP of marketing, told Billy Penn. 

Billboards along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

Food was the second-most common billboard subject in Philly, with producers like Dietz & Watson and retail chains like Dunkin’ and Wawa making up 10% of the total along the central highway stretch. 

Ads for non-food shopping, from supermarkets to pharmacies to luxury goods, made up another 9%. 

Billboard for Wawa along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

In a world where people increasingly ignore ads, billboards are surprisingly effective drivers of action. More than 40% of U.S. adults reported looking up related info online after seeing “out-of-home” advertising, the industry term that encompasses billboards, posters, and signs in shared spaces like malls, per a recent study by ComScore.

The Philadelphia region’s “eds and meds” economy showed itself on the giant placards, which average around 14 by 48 feet in size.

Billboard for Villanova University along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

Education was the fourth-most common topic, at 7%, with doctors and hospitals combining for 5%. 

Job recruitment, cars, and entertainment (think Shen Yun, or Lil Dicky’s “DAVE”) each also accounted for 5%.

Billboard for DAVE along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

Exhortations to use condoms showed up on 3% — “Not ready for parenthood?” one ad asks, showing a baby smeared with spaghetti sauce — and Apple snagged another 3% to promote tech.

Billboard promoting the use of condoms along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

Some subjects are mainstays. Beer and liquor showed up on 4% of the billboards in Philly, including national brands like Budweiser and Casamigos plus one for Union Forge, the new vodka from Jacquin’s.

Billboard for Union Forge vodka along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

Booze is considered a “baseline advertiser” for billboards, per Brad Falk, Outfront Media’s general manager for Connecticut and Pennsylvania. “Alcohol has been a very consistent user of out-of-home advertising throughout the years,” Falk said.

Gambling is another theme. The lottery and casinos held down 7% of billboards along the Philadelphia I-95 corridor — many of them on digital displays, which are more malleable and easier to switch up. 

Billboard along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

“The casinos, they’ll buy an ad for the long term. And then they’ll change it out with those different events that they have going on,” said Mottesheard, the Outfront regional VP. The company has converted more and more displays to digital screens each year since the tech was implemented here in 2016.

There was also a billboard from the civil liberties nonprofit FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) touting free speech. 

Billboard for FIRE along I-95 in Philadelphia. (Ella Lathan for Billy Penn)

And despite the tight mayoral race in Philadelphia, there was only one political ad spotted, for Republican candidate David Oh.