From the 1840s, shopkeepers have distinguished their premises with painted signs, elaborate window displays, or goods exposed for sale on the footpath. Handbills were distributed in the streets ('bill sniping'), advertisements were stencilled or painted on footpaths ('screeving'), while spruikers and sandwich-board men also proved popular outdoor advertisements. Posters outside theatres advertised the latest attractions, and other advertisers placed their posters on poles, buildings and construction site barriers (known as hoardings).
In 1860 a Bill Sticking Co. erected fences at building sites for advertising purposes, and at least by 1875, three companies identified themselves as Bill Posters, owning and maintaining hoardings which were rented out to advertisers. The posters were created by commercial artists, notably Blamire Young and Harry Weston. Bill-posting companies paid large sums for exclusive advertising rights to railway station hoardings and space inside carriages. Advertising has since appeared on trams, buses and taxis, and their respective stops. Harold Clapp's 1920s poster campaign promoting Victoria to urban commuters was later replicated at both national and international levels.
Increasing car patronage stimulated roadside advertising. Large billboards have appeared near major arterials and intersections, while mobile billboards travel along city roads. From the 1910s, electricity enabled advertisements to be seen at night. Such advertisements as 'Little Audrey', the neon skipping girl on Victoria Street in Abbotsford, and the Nylex, Pelaco, Victoria Bitter and Slade Knitwear signs in Richmond have become celebrated landmarks. The Nylex sign is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. Many landmark signs have been removed, including the Southbank Allen's sign and the Atlantic Ethyl and Shell Petroleum rolling dice at St Kilda junction. Ironically, name changes, such as Optus Oval for Princes Park, have converted other landmarks into outdoor advertisements.
A fatality in 1896 due to a falling hoarding in Flinders Street polarised debate about the advertising hoardings as an unsightly urban nuisance or an artistic and popular advertising medium. Little came from suggestions heard in the Legislative Assembly in 1914 that hoardings be abolished, though Melbourne City Council (MCC) regulations in 1920 more strictly controlled outdoor advertising on footpaths and streets. Greater regulation within the industry occurred with the incorporation of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia in 1939. During the 1960s and 1970s State Parliament took a more active interest in outdoor advertising, increasing restrictions and by 1987 banning tobacco advertising outdoors. The defacing of billboards with graffiti, most notably from the late 1970s by BUGA-UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions), has become a common reaction to advertisements deemed morally offensive.