Imagine one of your vehicles pulling into the lot of your best customer, Widget Manufacturing, to take on a load of its products. The company's president happens to be looking out the window of his corner office and sees the clean, sharp tractor, with its tasteful metallic paint and bright-metal trim.
But what really catches his eye are the bold graphics displayed on the trailer. Among them is Widget's current ad slogan for one product: "Go Gaga Over The Gigabyte Gizmo!"
The president is impressed enough to mention this in his next meeting with his traffic manager, and presto - your trucking company has secured more future business. Sure, your reasonable rates and reliable service are important, but helping to advertise the customer's prized product gives you an edge. What happens later this week when that rig is supposed to pull into the yard of Widget's arch competitor, Gidget Inc.? No problem. Those graphics can be removed or changed in just a few minutes, and the truck's ready to go and impress the other guy.
This creative use of graphics is the future of for-hire trucking, as seen by Marv Smith, CEO of Epic Media Group in El Segundo, Calif. Fleet advertising, as he calls it, is already here for private fleets, which haul their firms' own products to distribution centers and stores. Those trucks offer free advertising space that Epic, with the help of its Kwik Zip Graphics system, arranges for the companies. It produces large, but easily handled sheets of vinyl signage that "zip" onto trailers and truck bodies as often as owners or sponsors want.
"We've got more than 500 recognizable companies in 22 countries around the world as clients," Smith says. "Our Kwik Zip Graphics system puts a frame on the side of the truck or trailer, and we literally zip the graphics into the frame. We can install the frame and graphics on both sides of a 53-foot trailer in under 20 minutes, without interruptions in their operations," he says of truck owners. One person can change a large trailer sign, though in practice, two people usually handle it.
"On average, over a million people a month will see the truck or trailer," he continues. "So when you calculate the value of all those eyeballs, the space is worth $4,000 to $5,000 a month, which is the marketing and ad value of that many people seeing those graphics every month."
The cost per thousand people reached - the unit measure in the ad business - comes out to be 4 cents over a year, a small fraction of the cost of traditional media and a figure he enjoys defending.
And the ads work, says Shelley Smith, Epic's president and Marv's wife. "We've had companies who've shared with us that their sales have increased since putting graphics on their trucks," she says. "Some say 7 percent, some 9 percent, some 10 percent. And for a Fortune 500 company, 10 percent is a lot."
Epic is among several companies that produce and install billboard-type advertising on trailers and truck bodies. One - VisionBurst in south Florida - recently arranged ads for city-owned trash trucks in Hollywood, Calif.. It also puts ads on gasoline pumps and pizza boxes.
Like all advertising, mobile ad messages "wear out" as people get accustomed to them and begin tuning them out, Marv Smith says. This can take as long as a year or two or just a few months. Ad campaigns to support products being sold during the Christmas shopping season should end when that season ends, for example. Sometimes the message is so specific that it needs to change much more often. This is done with rolling billboards that cruise city streets, including The Strip in Las Vegas. Interests of people on the street differ from morning to evening to the wee hours, so Vegas signage is pulled and replaced three times a day. When zipped off, a sign is rolled, placed in a long tube and stored on a rack, then pulled perhaps 24 hours later to be re-used.
Epic's durable frame system has been tested for 10 years throughout the world, and it adds virtually nothing to the width or weight of a vehicle. The sheeting is a proprietary material called Epic Rhino Vinyl that's rugged and takes high-resolution printing. "It really turns trucks into magazine pages," Smith says.
While in place, the sheeting protects the trailer's skin and, on old trailers, covers dents, dings, rust, faded paint or discolored metal. On reefers, the sheeting deflects the sun's hot rays and adds insulation in the form of a thin air barrier to better maintain temperatures for perishable commodities. And it smooths the sides of outside-post trailers to reduce air drag and aid fuel economy. The system is also used on roll-up doors, but not on swing doors because their handles and racking gear are in the way. Instead, pressure-sensitive vinyl decals are used on swing doors.
Fleets working with Epic sell a trailer's ad space for $200 to $400 a month. Frame installation and sign changing is usually done at the advertiser's expense. Smith thinks fleets should consider investing in the frame system. Added revenue and short-term depreciation make for a quick payback, and the rest is pretty much profit. And fleets plagued by the continuing driver shortage can do more than the typical small stick-on sign. So Epic's writers and artists have devised recruiting pitches to put on Kwik Zip signage.
Smith would like to sell for-hire fleets and leasing companies on the idea of pitching shipper-customers' products to add value to their transportation service. He believes some shippers may eventually demand it, and carriers that start now will have a leg up on competitors. Installing the frame system on a 53-foot trailer costs $3,800 to $4,000 and takes less than an hour, and then the trailer can display any number of messages over its life. Changing a message costs about $75 per side and can take as little as 15 minutes. Vinyl materials cost about the same whether zipped or pressure-applied decals, but decals take a full day to install at a cost of $1,000 to $1,400.
Our example at the top of the story is whimsical because, though possible, frequently switching signage on an irregularly routed rig can get complicated, Smith says. However, Epic has specialists throughout the country and can train people at places the truck might visit often. He does not see drivers as quick change artists, so to speak, but it's conceivable that they could be trained to handle the materials. Either way, imagine a recruiting message that says, "You Can Drive This Sign!"