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'Mobile billboards' hit the streets, stir up attention

Saturday, July 30, 2005

(Photo)
Jon Hammond of Sikeston drives down Malone Avenue in his McDonalds service van which is decorated with heavy duty 3M stickers
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - 'I'm lovin' it.'

That's the reaction most people are having to the new service vans for McDonalds, that just hit the streets with their new 'mobile billboard' designs about three weeks ago.

"Our service guys said anywhere they go, there's a kid who sees them and is waving, frantically trying to get the guy's attention," said Shannon Davis, owner of 12 McDonalds restaurants in Southeast Missouri.

Jon Forrest of Sikeston, who drives one of the vans, agreed. "People try to get my attention when I'm going down the road or the interstate - they just love it," he said.

The Daimler freight liner sprinter vans serve a dual purpose for area McDonalds restaurants, who bought the vans about six months ago. First, they are a transportation source for the three full-time service guys, who do everything needed to keep the stores looking good, from landscaping and painted to being a grill technician.

"These vans in particular are popular," Davis said. "You can walk around inside and get good mileage - you'll be seeing them a lot."

However, the vans also have quite a bit of white, interrupted space. So, Davis and some of his co-workers thought it would be neat to cover it with some graphics to market the restaurant even more.

"It made sense for us, since these guys are shooting around anyway," Davis said. Each of the three service men drive roughly 30,000 miles per year.

While the drivers are simply using the vans for transportation, some people seem to think they are simply marketing. "People ask for coupons and samples," Forrest said. "I have a lot of people ask me if we deliver."

Davis admitted that he had seen vans such as these around before, in addition to commercials and other media with vans covered in graphics. "I've seen in some larger cities where they have actual two-sided billboards on the back of a van and they pay a guy to drive it around all day," he said.

The vans are decorated with the McDonald's logo, in addition to a Coca-cola cup and container of French fries. And Davis and his staff had a lot of input on the design, which they worked on through their graphics and marketing company in Minnesota. "We kind of told the design company what we were looking for and the feel of what we wanted," he said.

The graphics are actually stickers, called vehicle wraps. "It's like a real heavy-

duty 3M sticker," Davis noted, adding that the price was quite economical.

These wraps are expected to last eight years, said Pat Burton, graphics manager at Canedy Sign Company in Sikeston. And it's something that's been around for quite some time, just with different uses. "They've been doing it on race cars and stuff like that," he said.

One of the benefits of the wraps is that they are digitally printed, so they make a better picture, Burton and Davis agreed. "The beauty of this is that we can have fries or Coca-cola in full high resolution photography in lieu of paint, where you can't have the same imagery."

The vans also have yellow chevrons made of reflective tape. "If you catch it at night and your lights hit it, you're gonna see it," Davis remarked. "It's crazy."

Large vehicle wraps haven't really kicked off in Southeast Missouri yet. And due to limitations with their machinery, it is difficult for Canedy to make large images, like that on the McDonalds van. "We can seam them together, but on a full wrap image, we'd have to get a kit or something," he said.

The idea of having trucks decorated with a business' name or slogan has been around for a long time, according to Margaret Duffy, advertising department chair at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Years ago, it was recommended to put it on top (of the vehicle), so people looking down from sky scrapers could see it," she said.

People are drifting away from traditional media, watching less television and using their cell phones and PDAs more, Duffy continued. "So advertisers are finding in much more difficult to reach their potential audiences," she said.

"This cuts across all demographics - even the baby boomers are getting harder to reach."

So companies are beginning to practice 'guerrilla marketing' - that is, using unconventional methods to reach their audiences. "In this case, it's not unconventional, but unusual for an organization such as McDonalds," Duffy noted.

Davis agreed. "You see a lot of vans with a name on the side, but this is bold," he said. "We want a lot of punch, a lot of head turning to see was it is."

The vans give McDonalds additional exposure, Davis said. Although it is tough to tell if they are making an impact, he said it has got to be postive, as far as building awareness.

While the vans catch the attention of everyone, Forrest said it's probably most exciting for the kids. "They're eyes get wide open," he said. "I guess they think we might have Ronald or one of the characters inside."