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Mobile Messaging

After taking over televisions, radios, computers, even nozzles on fuel pumps with advertisements, marketing companies are catching up to consumers on what has been one of the last ad-free zones in Canada: heavy trucks and trailers. Truck-side advertising -- where you lease or rent space on the side of vehicles -- is an $88-million US business in the United States and Canada, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. It's still a fraction of the $5.2 billion spent on billboards, bus shelters, and other outdoor ad venues each year, but the share of ads being pasted to the side of trucks is growing, giving new meaning to the term "information highway."

It's a route Canada Cartage System has been travelling for two years. The Toronto-based less-than-truckload specialist is one of several Canadian trucking companies that marketing firms are using as a way to break through advertising clutter and reach an audience that's constantly on the move.

Advertising on vehicles has been around for a long time, mostly on city buses and taxis, but until recently commercial trucks held limited appeal. Graphics took days to apply and even longer to remove. The alternative, using frame rails to hold a "billboard" to the side of a truck or trailer, rarely held up to the rigors of the road. Today, the old framing system has given way to a vinyl finish and new adhesives that come off with steam in a few hours. Downtime to have the truck decorated or undressed has been cut to less than a day, which doesn't hurt if you bring it in on a weekend when the truck would have sat idle anyway.

It also was hard to accurately measure and verify the number of "impressions" ads on trucks generate. Impressions are important: advertising rates are typically calculated in cost per thousand or CPM -- how much it costs for the ad to be seen by 1,000 people. A 30-second TV spot, for instance, costs about $18 per thousand. A 60-second radio spot during "drive time" hours is about $8.60. A one-third-page black-and-white newspaper ad is about $23. For truck-side ads, the cost is around 65 cents per thousand.

"We decide what to pay the trucking company based mostly on the number of impressions we can determine," says Faisal Rasheed, chief executive officer of West Palm Media, a Mississauga, Ont., company that brokers deals between advertisers and truck fleets. "If a truck is running once a day to a single area, (the fee) is going to be less than if a truck is on the road all day long and travelling through a number of different routes.

"The United States has more business-dedicated routes through major cities," Rasheed explains. "Here in Canada, we find that trucks are more often on the same routes as regular vehicles, so the impressions jump up."

According to industry estimates, a trucking company's cut for a truck-side ad is about 10 per cent of the advertiser's cost -- anywhere from $100 to $700 dollars a month per truck, depending on the size of the ad and where the vehicle is routed. That's "pocket money," says Canada Cartage traffic manager Barry Garside, but it can also be used to balance rising operating expenses. "We got into it because we were looking for a new way to offset costs, especially technology costs, so we wouldn't have to pass those down to the customer," Garside says. He adds that the advertising draws attention to the Canada Cartage name and raises the company's profile.

Canada Cartage is the type of truck fleet Rasheed likes to work with. Advertisers want carriers and drivers with impeccable safety records, he says, and trucks not older than two years. Rasheed adds that Canada Cartage has routing down to a science, which is critical to West Palm Media, whose clients include Warner Bros. and Universal Studios.

West Palm collects census numbers from the various provincial transport ministries and Statistics Canada on vehicular ridership on various Canadian highways. With that information, the company can tell how many people are on the road in any given area at a given time.

"We're able to tell how many people leave a specific suburb between these certain hours and go to work downtown," Rasheed says. "We then dissect the different routes they could possibly take and generate approximately the right demographics for any given area. We would look at trucking company routes and see if they fit in the areas and times of day we're targeting."

West Palm works with the advertiser and the carrier's dispatchers to co-ordinate routes with ads that make most sense according to the demographics. The trucking company can use its equipment tracking and fleet management systems to verify that the trucks are where they're supposed to be.

"You don't want an ad on the side of a truck promoting vacationing in Cuba if the truck is going to go down to the States. That would be the last thing you would want to see," he says.

Data generated by a fleet-management or routing system can also be collected and repackaged as a marketing tool for a carrier looking to attach a dollar value to an advertising deal it may be attempting to broker on their own.

"It can be a great way to prove to a customer trying to market a product that their ad is being shown at a certain place at 3 o'clock in the afternoon," says Denis Cordick, marketing and special projects director for AMJ Campbell Moving Systems in Oakville, Ont. "Unlike a billboard, where you're going to get demographic info three months later, we can tell you in a few hours."

AMJ Campbell is one of Canada's largest household movers and is the official equipment transporter for some of the country's most notable sports franchises. Cordick says the company routinely offers ad space to many of the teams it moves. Sometimes, the contract doesn't involve money. Instead, space is traded for event tickets, which in the cases of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Calgary Flames, can be more valuable than cash. It's an example of using truck-side ad space as added value for a customer.

Among the most popular truck-side ads these days are movie promotions. "Movies are big and bring in revenue, but as popular as they are, they're sometimes hard to accommodate because of their strict time restraints," says Cordick. "For a company doing a six-month promotion like the Molson Indy, it doesn't matter whether the truck gets done Tuesday or Thursday."

That's starting to change. Last year, the commercial graphics division of 3M has introduced a new line of Scotchprint graphics that can be applied and removed easier and faster than before, without chemicals or extensive labour. The company also expects to introduce a new graphics applicator that can "roll" a one-piece, 48-foot long full-colour graphic along the side of a trailer from rear to front in about one minute.

According to Dan Pohl, business and technology development manager for 3M Commercial Graphics, it used to take 18 man-hours to place 20 to 30 vertical panels on both sides of a trailer. "Now," he says, "it can be done in four man-hours and the vehicle is out the door hauling freight again while displaying its message brightly, boldly, and effectively." Manual installation of full-side trailer graphics costs $1.50 a square foot and typically takes two seasoned installers 15 to 20 man-hours to do both sides of a riveted-panel trailer, longer for a trailer with ribbed panels or exterior posts. The new applicator also can be used on soft-sided trailers. 3M says the plan is to lease applicators to graphics installers, with projected savings being shared by graphics providers, installers, and end users.

Mike Giordano, general manager of Richmond, B.C.-based Pro-West Logistics, says that while a select few of his owner-operators will refuse having Brad Pitt's mug plastered over their brand new paint job, most have no problem with the arrangement. He says he splits the majority of the fee he charges West Palm with the owner-ops, who warm up quickly to the idea of extra cash and the fact all eyes on the highway are them -- or at least their rig.

Many times, drivers are also paid to take the trucks to the event the ad is promoting.

A Canada Cartage driver, for example, got to stand with World Wrestling Federation superstar The Rock while he signed autographs at a WWF event. Another saw a collection of celebrities while displaying a truck promoting the latest Harry Potter movie at the Toronto Film Festival.

However, the same way advertisers are sensitive to the reputation portrayed by the carrier delivering their message, trucking companies should also be mindful of they type of product promoted on their trucks. An advertisement promoting the sequel to Stephen King's killer-truck film Maximum Overdrive probably wouldn't be a good idea for most fleets. "That's something we're very conscious of," says Giordano. "Everything we've had on (the trucks) has been pretty tasteful so far. But we have the right of first refusal if it ever becomes an issue."

There's not much disagreement among marketers why ad-clad trucks work. There's an element of surprise that can't be duplicated by any other medium, Rasheed says, and it instantly creates a branding presence and places it in front of the viewer's nose.

All that extra attention on the truck is a self-promotional bonus for the carrier as well, Garside says. "The advertisement is the first thing people notice. But I think it definitely draws attention to the whole truck, so there is some additional exposure for us as a trucking company," he explains.

Canada Cartage Media and Marketing Inc.?

Tempting. But Garside bets the boss upstairs will stick to moving freight.

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