On my way home from a photo shoot this afternoon, I noticed a billboard for the Biltmore house. I guess if you haven’t lived in close proximity to this beautiful estate, you probably wouldn’t think it strange to see a giant billboard ad for it in Greenville, SC. After all, little old G-ville is growing by leaps and bounds. Its outskirts get every bit of traffic that links Atlanta to Charlotte. BMW is here. So is Michelin. There is a ton of industry moving here, and with it, tons of people who have yet to discover this architectural and historic marvel.

So a billboard advertisment seems to make a whole lot of sense: All of these new people need to be introduced to Biltmore, and in light of all of the new entertainment that wasn’t available to Greenville residents twenty years ago, people who once visited Biltmore religiously kind of need to be reminded that it’s there.

And there’s the rub. I could be wrong, but Biltmore doesn’t seem to be advertising because it wants to, or because it has something to say or something new to offer. Biltmore seems to be spending advertising dollars because it needs to. Because its wallet share probably isn’t what it used to be. (Let’s face it: Are most families going to spend their $100 day-trip budget on Biltmore, or are they going to head up to Carowinds or Frankie’s Fun Park, or down to Six Flags? It’s a retorical question.)

Biltmore’s ad seems to be saying: “Hey, remember me? Please, please, please come spend your dollars over here again!” If I’m wrong and business is as good as (if not better than) it used to be, then they just need to hire a better agency!

Every day, I see billboard ads for new grocery stores, new restaurants, new movies, radio station shows, the Cartoon Network, new cars, new wireless plans, non-profits, etc. Some of those billboard ads are pretty lousy. Many are pretty cool. Most of them don’t seem desperate. They’re saying “hey, we’re here. We’re already part of your world. Make us a bigger part of it. You won’t regret it.”

That isn’t what Biltmore’s ad seemed to be saying at all.

When I finally left billboard alley behind, it occured to me that there are two types of billboard advertisers: Those who see advertising as a necessary evil (desperate times call for desperate measures), and those for whom advertising is one of many everyday extensions of their brand (establish a relevant, memorable media presence, and maintain it).

The first don’t really like advertising, see it as an unwanted expense, and usually commission forgetable ads which produce very little ROI. The second group, which understands the value of advertising, typically produces effective ads. Think iPod, Absolut, hp, Jaguar, XBox, Sony Playstation, etc.

So… my question to you is this: What kind of advertiser is your company?

Are you growing? Do you have a story to tell? Are you the best in your business?

… or are you hitting a bit of a rough patch?

Perhaps a better question is this: What is your advertising really saying about you?