Mobile billboard trucks, commonly referred to as mobile billboards, mobile ad trucks, billboard trucks, ad trucks, or mobile media vehicles, are typically a self propelled vehicle based on a light duty commercial truck chassis, which has been fitted with a custom built, two or three sided sign frame. There are a variety of sign system designs, including tri-face and scrolling models that look like modified box trucks, and which can support multiple advertisers. However, the most common style is known as a static truck which generally features two panels, each measuring roughly 22′ wide by 9′ – 10′ high. In recent years, with the advent of grand format digital printing, the sign panels have evolved from paper posters to scrim reinforced heavy vinyl fabric, and most recently to polyethylene which is said to be easily recycled.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America classifies mobile billboard trucks under the Transit category, which includes a variety of non-traditional out-of-home media formats. Billboard trucks have a relatively recent history, with some of the earliest mobile billboards reportedly showing up in New York City in the 1980’s. Others have attributed their origins to Texas and Southern California. During a recent conference call among mobile billboard company executives hosted and moderated by the OAAA, on which this author participated, several of the participants estimated that nationally, there are 500 or fewer mobile billboard trucks on the road in the United States.
Mobile billboards are used for a wide variety of advertising purposes. With their ability to drive virtually anywhere, they are uniquely able to target a specific locale to promote the Grand Opening of a retail store or a restaurant. Unfortunately, given the current economic climate, promoting retail store Bankruptcies and Close-out Sales increasingly seems to be a regular assignment for billboard trucks.
On a broader scale, multiple billboard trucks have frequently been used simultaneously within a market, or across multiple markets, to promote the roll-out of a new consumer product, or as was the case in late October 2008, promoting the Obama-Biden Presidential Campaign in a handful states were the polls indicated that it was a close race. There have even been a few instances, on both B to B and B to C ad campaigns, where two trucks have driven in tandem, featuring a two-part message.
Like any good advertising message, the creative element is critical to capturing the public’s attention and causing it to act on the message. With outdoor advertising in general, advertisers are encouraged to follow the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and prominently feature their logo and an illustration representing the message’s theme, followed by a clear call to action and a way to contact the advertiser. Indeed, it is this last element which has steadily evolved. Years ago advertisers were basically limited to an ‘800’ number, while in recent years the creative also featured a website URL which prospects could visit at their convenience to learn more about the company and its products, prior to making a purchasing decision. Most recently, with the dynamic growth of Social Media, we have started to notice advertisers highlighting their presence on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other platforms.
At Guerrilla Billboards, we have been executing advertising campaigns for our clients since 1999. Ranging from the streets of New York City to sunny Southern California, our mobile billboard trucks have served a wide variety of organizations – from large Fortune 500companies to relatively small grassroots organizations such as a fan club protesting the decision by a major TV network to cancel its members’ favorite show about a vampire.
Over the past ten years, we have consistently found that successful mobile billboard advertising promotions have resulted from the following key elements:
- First and foremost, know who and where the target audience is. Is it a general branding campaign, or a focused promotion such as a Grand Opening? Typically the client will have solid demographic data regarding the so-called Life Pattern attributes of its customer base. For instance, several years ago we ran an employee recruiting campaign for a major biotech company in the Boston area. Given that firm’s suburban location, they directed us to operate during the AM and PM rush hours along one of the heavily traveled commuter corridors from Southern New Hampshire into Kendall Square in Cambridge, where many of their competitors have offices. In this case, the primary theme that our client’s ad was to promote its convenient suburban locale.
- Second, the creative must not overwhelm. The target audience generally has a very brief time to process the message. As stated earlier, let corporate logos and/or photos do most of the heavy lifting. Great examples of this strategy are exhibited by the wide variety of outdoor ads that are run by McDonald’s Corp., which feature terrific photographs of the restaurant chain’s various products and very limited text.
- Mobile billboard trucks are all about flexibility. If during a retail campaign one location needs additional help to pump up its sales, it is very easy to re-route the truck to spend more time in a particular trade area.
- Properly vet your vendor. Lowest price is not always best. Unfortunately, there are a number of mobile billboard operators who pay their drivers “under the table” in order to save money on payroll taxes and worker’s compensation insurance. Be sure that your vendors are fully insured. As an agency or a brand, you do not want to receive a call from the IRS demanding payment of back taxes.
- Continuing with this theme, take a hard look at the vendor’s trucks. Do they look beat-up or are they clean and well maintained? Safety is very important, and it is your brand’s image and reputation that is at stake.
- Proof of performance is a given. In these days of ROI metrics, the client wants to know that the truck is operating when and where it is supposed to be. While clients will frequently get feedback from customers and employees stating when and where they may have seen the truck, we provide a selection of so-called proof of performance photos, taken daily during the campaign at various spots along the route – and frequently in front of competitors’ locations. Depending on the campaign length, these may be delivered in batches during an extended campaign. We also provide our clients with the output from the internet based GPS tracking systems in our trucks, which is further backed-up by driver log books.
In conclusion, the key value proposition of a mobile billboard truck is its incredible flexibility from both a day-part and geographic perspective to target the Life Pattern attributes of a client’s desired demographic. Mobile billboards create and reinforce awareness and drive prospects to data rich media – whether print, Web 1.0, or increasingly, the Web 2.0 Social Media platforms. With the continuing fragmentation of other media, especially traditional ad supported terrestrial radio, combined with consumers’ increasing lengths of time away from home each day, a mobile billboard, if posted with suitable creative, as well as properly scheduled and routed, provides advertisers with a highly effective medium with which to reinforce the messages from other media.