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November 7, 2006 | Tate Linden
Over on Lee Hopkins' Better Communications Results blog there's an interesting post about the use of images on vehicles. I really enjoy Lee's blog and find the information that he provides to be though provoking and informative - especially if you are interested in learning about PR.

I too think that the pictures he has posted are quite cool. But there's a difference between a cool picture and a workable concept. A few problems appear with the advertisements:
  1. Every single picture on the page looks surprisingly similar. The trucks are all in the same position with the same background. These aren't photos of actual campaigns, they're mockups. (As evidenced by the final photo that shows the truck "speeding" in the parking lane or about to run off the road - depending on whether you're in a left-driving or right-driving country.) This doesn't mean it can't work - but it does imply that it isn't actually being used.
  2. An advantage of using mock-ups - the colors are vivid and clear - versus two-dimensional and covered with dust. The pics would likely be less convincing when scratched, tagged, and covered in dirt. It makes me wonder how the campaign would age and how expensive it would be to maintain.
  3. One advantage of using the same photo is that every shot is from the same angle - from behind, below, and to the left of the truck. Most of the images "pasted" on the wall of the truck don't work from any other position outside the truck than the position taken by the camera. So - if you're directly behind the truck you would see a picture that makes no geometric sense - the inside of the truck as seen from the left. It doesn't make visual sense.
On the plus side - if the trucks actually were rolling along the road they'd probably have other drivers competing for the exact right space for the perfect view. This could lead to blog mentions and press coverage. But even this has a negative. It could also lead to accidents as drivers jockey for their shots with their eyes on the camera instead of the road.

Even worse... the "sweet spot" for viewing in this instance is only a short distance behind the truck, meaning that people will sit in the danger zone appreciating the advertisement and making it hard for the truck to safely change lanes. The problem with this is that trucks typically can't tell when their rear bumper is clear of traffic. I don't know many truck drivers that would be interested in having people hanging out in the danger zone.

Okay, so I don't know many truck drivers at all. Any, really. But if I did and I asked 'em if they like people hanging out back there I bet they would say "no." (I do hang out in Truck Stops when I drive long distances - but I've yet to pick up any friends.)

I'm probably over-reacting here, but
I'm always suspicious when an advertising technique is used without reinforcing the brand message. In the pictures on the site we see the same type of messages we see everywhere else. How hot are those chips? Hot enough to burn stuff! Oh my goodness that's a big bottle of beer! Is that soda so light that it's floating? Wow!

What I'd really love to see is something that adds value rather than just taking a product quality and overstating it. Where is my compelling visual? Remember Tempur-Pedic and the hand imprint? You see the image and you understand the strengths of the product without having anything overstated. Is there something that could use the canvas of the truck to get the message across?

A few ideas (admittedly quick ones that might not completely match brand messaging):
  1. Moving companies. Imagine a truck filled top to bottom with a house full of stuff. No need for a 3-d effects because everything could be packed to the walls.
  2. Storage companies: Showing how many of some particular type of item can fit in a storage area might be cool. Imagine a photo of a huge pile of golf balls or some other small object - with a note about how much can fit in a standard space. Maybe a tagline about "Where can you put your millions?" or somesuch.
  3. Car companies: Prior to the release of a vehicle you could show it in "3-d" on a virtual flat-bed. Imagine having text or arrows pointing out what's new, different, or better about the model. Or better, a message that reinforces the core brand.
  4. Politicians or political causes: Messages about how many people support a cause - show the truck filled with concerned citizens or affected constituents holding signs saying something like "How many people will xxxxx affect? Try 3,000 more trucks like ours. (though this one might evoke some Holocaust comparisons that could be highly unflattering.)
  5. Military recruiting: the US Army's old tagline would've lent itself well to this type of advertising. One soldier standing on the platform while staring deep into the camera (the viewer's POV). The "Army of One" personified. Even today's "Army Strong" could use this - with a single new recruit standing in a crowd of semi-transparent fellow soldiers... maybe without a face... "Picture yourself Army Strong".
Would you go out and buy a particular brand of beer because you saw a massive bottle of it on a truck? Maybe. But if you were thinking about enlisting in the military or buying that next cool car the right brand image could really impact you while you're in a position to do something about it.

Would I consider this type of advertising? Sure. But I'd try to find a way to remove the accident hazard and the shallow messaging first.

I'm not an expert on advertising execution (as evidenced by my ad ideas above) - so perhaps I've missed the point of these ads. Maybe they're just to get mind-share and nothing else. Pop quiz: What was the brand-name on the bottle on the truck back on Lee's site? If you can't remember it then how exactly is it going to help you buy? (I'm skeptical about repetition of ads leading to long-term customers, in case you couldn't tell.)

Has anyone seen effective truck-side branding anywhere? Tell us about it!

And to Lee: Thanks for showing such an interesting concept. Here's to hoping it'll come to the states and be executed well.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925