Body shops and collision centers all over the country utilize billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising to get their message out there while engaging their existing and potential customer base right where they want them to be—in their cars or on busses and in cabs, etc.
But, not everyone appreciates outdoor advertising and many call it “visual pollution.” Last year, São Paulo in Brazil was the first city to enact a ban on virtually all outdoor advertising. Billboards, neon signs, and even buses and taxis have been wiped clean of advertisements in the municipality, the world’s fourth largest. According to Mayor Gilberto Kassab, the city’s so-called “Clean City Law” meant attacking pollution in every form, including air, water, noise and annoying signage.
Since its adoption, the law has eliminated some 15,000 billboards as well as other ads citywide and has generated more than $8 million in fines, according to David Evan Harris from Adbusters. While some advertising and business groups complain that the ban limits free expression, costs jobs, and makes streets less safe by reducing lighting from signage, the move has won more than 70 percent approval from São Paulo residents, many of whom appreciate the aesthetics of a city with less advertising.
São Paolo is not the only city to take action against outdoor advertising. This spring, the municipal government of Beijing, China’s capital city, began reducing ads by targeting billboards for luxury housing. “Many [of the ads] use exaggerated terms that encourage luxury and self-indulgence which are beyond the reach of low-income groups and are therefore not conducive to harmony in the capital,” the city’s mayor, Wang Qishan, told The Wall Street Journal.
Well, as long as it’s still legal, outdoor advertising is an ideal way for collision repair companies to continue their ongoing branding efforts. Getting your name in the brain of the consumer in your area is key and if a billboard or an inflatable gorilla standing on your roof will reinforce your shop’s name and lead to people coming through the door, why not do it?
Zara’s Collision Center in Springfield, IL, has been using billboards for the past seven years and its owner, Brad Zara strongly believes they bring him business, he said, although he has no specific numbers.
“Most of the billboards we do here in Springfield are not near our shop, because we want to pull business from other parts of the city,” Zara said. “We do four different themes every year and run each one quarterly, so that there’s some variety. We usually donate one billboard per year to a local charity or cause we believe in. Our logo is there on those charity-based billboards, but in the end we give the organization or cause most of the space.”
Are his billboards worth the cost, we asked Zara. “I have no idea, actually,” he said. “But I can tell you this—our customers mention them literally every day. People say things like ‘I saw this billboard yesterday,’ etc.—but that billboard was from three years ago. But they think it’s still up there, which is good, because it shows that they’re thinking of us and they still have that message in their brains.”
Zara’s gets their billboard designs and coordinates the placement of the billboards through HIP Advertising is a full-service central Illinois advertising agency offering creative, marketing, Web and media services. Mark Butler, a corporate communications executive at HIP Advertising has been working with Brad Zara on his billboard campaigns since day one. “Our relationship with Zara’s came from a cold call back in 2005, as I recall,” Butler explained. “The campaign has grown from there and by now, we have the process down. At the end of each year, we sit down with Brad and his people and go over the creative concepts for each billboard for the following year. Then we do the final designs and start scheduling the billboards for the coming year.”
When it comes to billboards in general, the key is obviously visibility, but the message is also a big part, Butler said. “It has to be simple and direct with a large graphic supporting the message. A common mistake is when companies try to convey too much information on a billboard. Drivers aren’t going to sit there and read it, so you have to convey your message quickly. If you’re going get 10-15 seconds of their time, that’s pretty much the max. So brevity is crucial if you want your billboard to get response. With Zara’s, we like to use a fun, whimsical and humorous approach and it really seems to work.”
Jon McKnight is the business development manager at Fife’s Auto Body, with two locations in Ohio. Rife’s has been buying billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising for the past five years and the results are positive, he explained.
“People around here know who we are, and by asking each customer through the door how they heard about us, we know that the billboards are being seen,” McKnight explained. “That’s pretty much what you want from any form of advertising or marketing. We partner with charities and give us our billboards, at least one every year and we also do promotions via our billboards. We gave away a round of golf one time, by asking people to like us on Facebook and we always try to do timely things. For instance, right now we’re running a Winter Olympics theme. We’ve used every technique to get consumers to look at our billboards. We put our dogs on there and we even ran one billboard upside down, just to create a buzz and entice the public—and it seemed to work!”