Company loves rush-hour traffic

OUTBOARD BILLBOARD advertising traces its roots in America as far back as 1835, when Jared Bell, from his office in New York City, printed 50-square-foot posters announcing that the circus was in town.

By 1867, billboard companies were leasing space to all kinds of advertisers. The first real boom in national billboard campaigns came in 1900, when a standardized billboard structure was created. Big advertisers like Coca-Cola and Kellogg were the first to mass-produce billboards for the national market.

Today, there's a new twist on this outdoor advertising medium — billboards not on the side of the road, but billboards driving down the road. In many parts of the country the concept is still new, and people really take notice. For one entrepreneur in Oklahoma, the rental of mobile billboards has become a successful business venture.

“I first saw these moving billboards at conventions I was attending, and got the idea that they would be a good way to promote my own company,” said Joe Wilhite, owner of Challenger Wireless, the largest AT&T VoiceStream dealer in Oklahoma. Wilhite purchased a Mitsubishi Fuso FE and found a local company to install a metal framework on the chassis. This 8' × 16' billboard was a good first step, but he had much bigger ideas.

Working with his local Mitsubishi Fuso dealership, he found a company in Atlanta GA that specialized in outfitting vehicles for mobile billboards. When his new Mitsubishi Fuso FE-HD returned from Atlanta with its 22'-long by 10'-high billboard, Wilhite recognized an opportunity to start a second business. “Local companies saw my mobile billboard and started calling me almost immediately,” he said.

Two weeks later, he ordered another two FE-HD vehicles, and his new business, Move Your Ads, was in full swing. All four trucks have been on the road since early June. “I have four trucks now,” he said, “but my goal is to have at least 10.”

Wilhite has found a variety of customers interested in advertising on his mobile billboards. One customer, a district judge running for re-election, likes the fact that the truck travels only in his voting district, maximizing his exposure where it counts the most. Another customer, a local bank, has the truck parked at area colleges to encourage students to open checking accounts.

Some customers are renting a truck for the entire month, others on a weekly basis, and some want it just a day or two out of the week. Wilhite's rate structure can accommodate all of these requests.

“We can run one company's ad in the morning, take it off at noon, and then run someone else's billboard in the afternoon,” he said. “We can even put another billboard on for the evening shift if we need to.”

The vinyl billboards cost about $750 per side. It takes about 10 days for the company in Atlanta to produce a new vinyl billboard — known as a “skin” — and get it back to Wilhite. The customer pays production costs.

The vinyl skins are similar to those used on roadside billboards, except they go through the printing process twice. That second coating of ink is needed because the skins are backlit with floodlights mounted on the chassis. At night, the billboard is really hard to miss. For added oomph, the truck has a sound system with loud speakers and a 12-disc CD changer, creating a multimedia advertising medium.

Wilhite charges a daily rate of $450, and a monthly rate of $4,250 per side. That buys the advertiser five days a week, six hours per day, for a month. Someone wanting to rent a truck every day of the month, both sides, would be charged $9,000. “The maximum potential of this business venture could be as high as $22,000 per month for each truck,” he said.

Finding drivers for his new venture hasn't been difficult, since a commercial driver license isn't required to drive a Mitsubishi Fuso vehicle. “I started by hiring my next-door neighbor, a retired gentleman, and have been hiring mostly retirees ever since,” Wilhite said. “They don't mind getting up early and crawling down the highway with the rest of the morning commuters. And it gives my advertisers more exposure.”

Is it any wonder that Move Your Ads loves rush hour traffic?

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