If you have never looked twice at those giant blue signs on the side of the highway detailing what businesses are close by off the next exit, you have never been on a road trip. It is easy to overlook them as just another ignorable feature of the interstate’s landscape. That is, until you and your car are running on fumes in the middle of who-knows-where, USA.
In those frantic times, a giant blue sign can be your savior, alerting you to gas stations and fast food joints to fill your tank and face, respectively. But how do businesses end up on those signs? Surely, you have noticed that not all of the places right off the exit get to be featured.
The answer is as simple as it is obvious: Money. These signs are some of the best advertising a business could hope for. Travelers unfamiliar with the area don’t have time to fight the GPS that keeps telling them the closest gas station is six miles behind them, the kids need a bathroom NOW.
How much a business will pay for these advertisements varies by state. For example, according to Jalopnik, for a sign facing each direction of travel, Washington state charges anywhere from $360 to $910 yearly depending on the size of the road, Michigan charges a $1,700 flat rate and Florida factors in things like traffic and market demand to determine price, but caps urban signs at $3,500, and rural ones at $2,000.
But just having enough cash still doesn’t guarantee a business a spot on the big boards, there are specific eligibility requirements that also vary by state. In Michigan, a business must first fall under one of these categories: Gas, Food, Lodging, Camping or Pharmacy. Then the requirements break down further to include maximum distance from the exit, services provided and operating hours.
If a business has the cash and satisfies all the requirements, they submit an application and then get their logo on the coveted roadside sign.
Some states, like Colorado, rotate the businesses annually. Others, according to MentalFloss, have waiting lists that can be decades long.
Clearly, it is no simple task for a business to get a logo onto one of the most effective advertising spaces possible. Next time you are lost and about to run out of gas, you’ll be glad they went through the trouble.