Mobile Advertising

Advertising in the 21st Century is new and different from anything before, with whole market segments of alternative, non-traditional advertising constantly adding to a diverse mix. A small slice of the “non-traditional” pie is the mobile advertising industry, but as the industry develops, it could be a growing slice in a growing pie.

The reason is simple visibility and the ever-important count of eyeballs.

While the logo and graphics on a landscaping company’s truck and trailer is, technically, “mobile advertising,” there are distinct lines of separation in the market that are related to how advertising on a vehicle functions and how the vehicle itself functions. These same distinctions also affect how those vehicles are regulated.


In addition to shop vehicles, mobile advertising today encompasses truckside advertising, advertising on buses and taxis, fleet graphics and mobile billboard advertising.

Truck, bus and taxi advertising generally is brokered by a third party. This is the same model used in most other outdoor advertising models. People who rent the space—large companies like Lamar or Clear Channel as well as a host of small local outdoor advertising companies—often don’t own the buses, bus stop shelters, benches, trucks or pole structures that the advertising is placed. The advertising company rents the space from the owners and then sells the space to advertisers.

Fleet graphics look and function identically to truckside advertising, except that a company uses fleet graphics to advertise only its own brands or services on its own vehicles and not another company’s.

Mobile billboards are exactly what they sound like, and, like stationary billboards, they come in several versions, the most popular of which are A-frames, scrolling backlit boards, electronic LED message centers and LCD video boards.

“I really see truckside advertising exploding in the next five years because we have finally figured out how to do this on a nationwide basis,” says Rod Harris of McLean, Va.-based TruckAds. “One of the main problems has been logistics, but we’ve overcome that. We can provide GPS tracking. We can provide all kinds of ways to interact with customers. I think the staying power of truckside advertising is that it’s out there every day, and the longer it runs, the cheaper it gets.”

Harris believes commercial truck owners should get in on what he calls an important revenue stream—the space outside as well as inside their vehicles. “The neat thing about truckside is it doesn’t have to be brokered by a third party. The owner of the truck can go out and broker the ad space themselves if he wants to,” says Harris. “It’s an exciting time, even if it’s a down time in the ad business.”


How a vehicle functions opens up another perspective on mobile advertising. Robert Tarabella of Spark Equipment LLC, Fairhope, Ala. says there’s a huge difference between what his company calls dedicated advertising vehicles (DAVs) and marketing utility vehicles (MUVs).

Spark started in the business of mobile billboard trucks with rotating three-sided versions in 2002 and now has mobile ad units all over the world. Spark still serves that market and has evolved the product with a variety of solutions for a mobile advertising business. Most products originally featured tri-vision-type mechanisms, but, recently, many have converted to scrolling backlit mechanisms.

According to Tarabella, the scrolling mechanisms won in the marketplace because people liked the capacity, the graphics don’t need to be sliced up into strips and they are much easier to install in the field.

“But that’s not where we spend our efforts these days,” Tarabella says. “MUVs make more sense. There are many more existing business owners across the U.S. who simply want to do more business than there are entrepreneurs who have decided that selling advertising is how they are going to make their fortune.”

He says he’s seen a number of ill-prepared entrepreneurs fail at startup mobile advertising businesses because, while they were fascinated with the technology, they didn’t understand what’s really involved with being a sales professional.

“But our customers who know how to sell, who especially love selling advertising, do well and get strong rates because they can sell the value,” he says.

The biggest distinction between Spark’s DAVs and its MUVs is the MUV is a working truck and can be fitted with shelves or other arrangements because access to the advertising unit is from the outside.

“We’ve tried to steer the market toward MUVs, instead of DAVs, because the MUV customer is one who needs a truck for his business, and this may only cost a little more than a regular service truck. The only difference is the custom body and scrolling gear,” says Tarabella.

Tarabella believes there are a lot of opportunities at hand, even though the market is slow by some definitions. “It’s allowing us to focus on solutions. When the market is wide open you’re just busy filling orders.”


Mike Tatum started Ventura, Calif.-based GetMobileMedia in 2007 after doing extensive post-graduate research in the advertising marketplace. He says his research showed that companies, like Google, were taking off with non-traditional advertising, and, at that point, the fastest growing non-traditional, non-technical advertising segment was in the outdoor marketplace. The same research led him to the companies that sell mobile advertising vehicles. So he says with some saved capital, he purchased two vehicles and moved forward.

Tatum’s trucks target what is known as designated marketing areas (DMAs) during a typical workweek. This means that per the contract with advertisers, the truck moves about in those DMAs throughout the day, staying on the road for an average of 40 minutes each hour and parking in a high visibility spot for the remaining 20 minutes. On the weekends the truck may appear at county fairs, soccer games, parks, car rallies and similar events. Advertisers adjust their ads to target buyers they want to attract from such events.

Tatum says he finds clients by direct mail to businesses in various communities, such as nearby Camarillo, a city that doesn’t allow billboards of any kind, including mobile. The service, he says, provides a means for those businesses to target customers outside the area. But the vehicle itself is the greatest sales and marketing tool because it commands attention and is the reason many clients contact him.

Although ads on all four sides of Tatum’s trucks can be programmed to remain visible for any length of time, scrolling mechanisms typically are set to allow each ad to remain visible for about 20 seconds.

For instance, Tatum says the truck was parked at the entrance of the Ventura County Fair last year. In that type situation, the ads remained visible for longer periods while he handed out materials and samples for advertisers.


“Execution is selling-intensive,” says Tatum. “You’ve got to pound the pavement. You have to show high quality, high value and a return on investment because if there is no return, businesses aren’t going to advertise.”

The rules, he says, are know the regulations, have high quality suppliers and put forth effort to sell your services. Another way Tatum says he adds value is by providing links from his Web site back to the advertiser’s Web site.

Typically, a truck owner will partner with a graphics provider for printing and design services. Such is the case with GetMobileMedia and Eyedentity Graphics, both operating in the Santa Barbara and Ventura, Calif. areas.

Tatum says many advertisers have ad materials ready to reproduce, but for those who don’t, he generally works with the graphic designers at Eyedentity to produce them. Eyedentity also provides all of his printing services.

Printing is done on backlit film and changing graphics is a fairly simple process that literally only takes a couple of minutes because each film print slips into a transparent sleeve in the scrolling mechanism.

“There’s a lot of synergy between the businesses,” says Tatum