July 28th, 2011
Summer Forecast: Sunny With a Chance of Ads
The Wall Street Journal
It’s turning into a banner summer for old-fashioned, airborne advertising.
Even online daily-deals company LivingSocial chose not to rely solely on the Internet when it launched in San Francisco a new smartphone-app service two weeks ago: It took to the skies. The company, which is backed by America Online co-founder Steve Case, commissioned five planes to script “Dollar Lunch Day” in fluffy letters with exhaust vapor high above the city.
Twitter traffic showed the skywriting was seen by people across a wide swath of the San Francisco Bay area. “It had huge geographic impact,” says company spokeswoman Maire Griffin.
Aerial advertising—which includes skywriting and banners towed by planes in view of waterfronts, festivals and outdoor sports arenas—is as much a totem of summer as flip-flops and sandcastles. It has been since it was first introduced to American skies nearly a century ago.
And even as we skip past commercials on television, in-the-air ads remain an attractive—and economical—medium for marketers.
“You can’t fast-forward,” says Andrew Miller, director of Destination Media Group, a company that specializes in out-of-home advertising.
This summer’s hot, sunny weekend weather, particularly on the East Coast, is proving to be a boon, say plane owners and brand marketers.
Skywriters have been writing companies’ messages up in the sky for nearly 100 years. Larry Arken, a pilot in Long Island who operates a skywriting business, shows WSJ’s Monika Vosough how the massive letters of smoke are created.
Last weekend, Sony Pictures flew banner ads over the beaches of the Hamptons in New York, touting its big summer release, “The Smurfs,” which opens Friday.
This particular movie was a perfect fit for over-the-beach advertising, says Marc Weinstock, president of world-wide theatrical marketing for Sony Pictures. The title is short, it is already a recognized brand that requires little explanation and the target audience is broad.
“Kids and their parents are on the beach and they look up and say, ‘Oh! Smurfs!’ “ he says.
When Tequila Avión launched last year, the liquor brand advertised by hiring airplanes to fly banner ads over the beaches of Los Angeles and New York featuring slogans such as “TASTE ELEVATED.”
The liquor company also hired a skywriter to create an Avión ad in the air above the Staples Center in Los Angeles where celebrities were arriving for the Grammy awards this past February.
Ken Austin, Avión founder and chairman, says the amount of chatter the ads generated on Facebook and Twitter convinced him to expand the ad plan into 15 markets this summer in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and other areas.
If even half the people crowding onto waterfronts this summer look up when they hear the hum of planes pulling ads, he is reaching millions of people, he says. “I call them Avión air strikes,” Mr. Austin says.
Skywriting involves small planes flying at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, expelling smoke that can be shaped into letters with pilot maneuvers. A typical message can take up 15 to 30 million square feet of air space, says Justin Jaye, owner of FlySigns.com, a national aerial-advertising company based in Los Angeles.
A visible message can remain readable for five minutes to an hour, depending on the weather.
Mr. Jaye says skywriting costs start at about $4,000.
After aerial ads last year and in February generated chatter on Facebook and Twitter, Tequila Avión this summer has expanded its airborne campaign into 15 markets in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and other areas.
Another sky-advertising option is a banner, often around 50 feet tall and 100 feet long, towed behind an airplane. Helicopters can pull bigger banners, up to 150 by 300 feet.
FlySigns charges companies about $500 an hour to tow the ads through the air behind a plane at about 45 to 60 miles an hour. A helicopter ad goes for $1,500 an hour.
At the 130-mile-long New Jersey coast, “on a nice summer day, we can hit about three million people for $1,500, and that’s good bang for the buck,” Mr. Jaye says.
Beers, beachside restaurants and bars, as well as summer movies and music radio stations—products that help celebrate summer—tend to benefit most from these ads, says Greg DiNoto, chief creative officer for Deutsch N.Y., a division of Interpublic Group of Cos.
In Medford, Ore., Rogue Federal Credit Union is trying out its wings. Last month, Rogue flew a helicopter-towed banner reading “Cruisin’ 4 Great Rates” over a four-day speedster and historic-car festival. Jim DeBoer, a marketing coordinator, says Rogue spent $7,000 on aerial ads as well as $20,000 in radio and television ads to support the air campaign.
Since then, the company has made loans that will generate interest income of at least nine times what it spent on the ad campaign. “People were just standing on the street, looking up at the sky,” Mr. DeBoer says.
Amanda Fleischman, a 23-year-old accountant, lives near the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago and spends many weekend hours on and near the beach.
Amid the celebrity magazines she likes to read and the beach volleyball she likes to watch, she tries to ignore the banners overhead. But she can’t ignore the skywriting. “There is a curiosity to see what it’s going to spell out,” she says.