Marketing on the Move
From door decals to city buses, vehicle wraps reach the masses
Donovan Conley-Smith of GraphicWorks carefully cuts away excess material from a vehicle wrap.
O'Hara Shipe | Alaska Business
Over the past two decades, marketing professionals have been running at a breakneck pace to keep up with technological innovations that are driving the world forward. The advent of the Internet in the early ‘90s ushered in a new era of content marketing on digital platforms. That landmark change was followed by the rapid popularization of social media, forcing marketers to again rethink their strategies, engineering brands with interactive, shareable personalities. Now a move toward artificial intelligence and virtual reality has marketers working to craft unique digital experiences catered to individual users.
With an estimated three billion social media users worldwide, an increased focus on digital marketing is undoubtedly warranted—but what has become of more traditional techniques such as printed products?
According to GraphicWorks co-owner Victor Alexander, printed collateral still holds a prominent place in the Alaska marketing scene. Alexander and business partner Bonnie Moore recently celebrated twenty-four years of being in business and believe that the market for printed branding materials such as vehicle wraps is only getting bigger.
O'Hara Shipe | Alaska Business
Victor Alexander of GraphicWorks displays available 3M vinyl options.
“We do printed banners and posters but honestly, I would say something like 50 percent of our business right now is going to vehicle wraps,” Alexander explains. “It's a little bit of a seasonal thing because in the summer our shop is booming with vehicle wrap projects as the tourist season picks up and then it kind of slows down in the winter. But I'd still say, overall, vehicle wraps are accounting for a big portion of the work we do.”
When Alexander and Moore began their business, they focused primarily on paper prints mounted on foamcore, but it wasn't long before they saw the market potential for vehicle wrapping. In 1997, after fielding requests from clients, the duo partnered with 3M to bring its world-class products to Alaska.
“We had to get a certification from 3M to verify that we had the right printers, ink, and laminates in order for them to provide their long-term warranties. The vinyl used in vehicle wrapping is kind of a unique product, so it does take some specialty equipment,” says Alexander.
Self-adhesive vinyl has only been on the market since the 1980s and prior to the early 1990s only large clients like the US Air Force could afford the custom product. Improvements in production made custom vinyl more accessible by the late 1990s, but protocols for application had yet to be established. So for GraphicWorks, the application of vinyl vehicle wraps was an on-the-job learning experience.
“We've sort of seen the whole arc of vehicle wrapping from being a specialty product to being much more of a commodity now. Before we had to educate clients about wrapping being a possibility, and now it's not uncommon for a client to accumulate three bids on a project,” Alexander says.
One local competitor, Innovative Designs is led by entrepreneur and sole proprietor Olin Henry. Innovative Designs is a small operation of four that has already begun to carve out a niche within the market.
“I like to see small businesses grow and I feel like giving a small business an eye-catching product like a vehicle wrap is one way I can help them. I know a lot of businesses will try and get different collateral made that is a little bit cheaper, but I think when it comes to your business, investing in something like a wrap that will make you stand out and add legitimacy to your brand is worth the extra money,” says Henry.
PIP Printing of Alaska
PIP Printing’s staff work diligently to provide the gamut of printing services.
On the other side of the spectrum, PIP Printing of Alaska has been providing the gamut of print services in Alaska since 1979, including full service design. “We can do anything from simple door decal to a city bus; we do vans, trucks, cars, food trucks, hotel shuttle vans, trailers, and shipping containers—we’ve even done boats,” says Debbie Hahn, sales manager.
Even on Alaska’s well-maintained roads, vehicles have to withstand quite a bit of weathering and abuse, so PIP Printing uses a 3M vinyl specifically manufactured for outdoor applications that has an over laminate for protection. Hahn says, “I have vehicles out on the street that are five, six, seven years old that still have good looking wraps on them. We’ve done several city buses, and those get a lot of wear and tear; they have to be washed every day due to all the road grime on our city streets.”
Because Alaska is one of a handful of states that doesn't allow billboards, Alexander, Henry, and Hahn all agree that vehicle wraps are one of the most effective and eye-catching ways to gain brand awareness.
“If you think about the number of impressions one vehicle would get you over the six year lifespan of a wrap—it's huge. Honestly, you can't beat a wrap in terms of cost per an impression. It's really pennies on the dollar for what you put into it,” says Alexander.
Hahn explains that a vinyl vehicle wrap is cheaper than painting a vehicle, and since the vinyl doesn’t damage the underlying paint, it’s easier to modify. “If you want to change something or if the vehicle is damaged, we can just put on a new piece of vinyl over the repaired section. Plus the vinyl is more durable. Vinyl can protect a vehicle’s paint from chips and dings from gravel on our roads.”
According to a 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report, Americans spend on average, 17,600 minutes driving each year, equivalent to seven forty-hour work weeks.
With so much time spent behind the wheel, an attractive vehicle wrap is all but guaranteed to bring in business. However, attracting potential clients is not the only benefit of wrap. As Hahn, Henry, and Alexander put it, having a professional appearance adds a lot of credibility and legitimacy to a business and has the potential to provide an unforgettable experience for current or potential clients.
One international example is the memorable 2010 Copenhagen Zoo bus wrap that featured a realistically rendered larger-than-life boa constrictor squeezing the bus until the metal crumpled under the pressure. More locally, United Way of Anchorage's 2015 “Put Kids on the Road to Success” bus wrap pictured children sitting in the bus windows wearing an assortment of job-related regalia.
The campaign was met with approval, and although there was not a way to directly track the impact of the bus, United Way of Anchorage is confident the wrap helped increase brand and campaign awareness.
O'Hara Shipe | Alaska Business
Donovan Conley-Smith of Graphic Works applies a vehicle wrap.
Director of Marketing for United Way Anchorage Sandy Stora says, “Buses go everywhere and reach everyone; they’re moving billboards, and they’re lovely.”
Hahn agrees, saying “It’s a great use of marketing dollars because it’s a one-time charge, and gets lots of views because it’s out on the road and in the community.”
Vehicle wraps aren't only for buses, cars, and trucks. They can be applied to boats, four-wheelers, trains, helicopters, and airplanes.
Shops generally have their own bay for wrapping small vehicles or boats. PIP Printing expanded its physical footprint a few years ago, which included adding a bay for car wraps. However, for fleets of vehicles or large airplanes, helicopters, or boats, the vinyl application operation will travel. “About two months ago we went out to the Alaska Communications vehicle barn and wrapped pretty much their entire fleet,” Hahn says.
“The biggest thing we've ever wrapped was a C-130 Hercules, and we did the whole fuselage, which was about one hundred feet long. That one we had to do off-site in a massive hanger,” Alexander says with a laugh. “You can pretty much wrap anything you just have to be able to figure out the math so you know how much material you're printing on. It's a little bit like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together.”
Fitting the pieces together is only one part of the labor that goes into turning a vehicle wrap into a reality. Before the vehicle even makes it to the garage to be wrapped, a graphic designer is consulted to help the company develop their vision. The graphic designer and vehicle wrapper work together to ensure that the graphic elements of the design do not interfere with the vehicle's functionality, such as emergency exits and windows. Once the design is finalized, the vehicle wrapper calculates the most efficient way to print the design so very little product is wasted. After the material is printed, it goes through a lamination process to help extend the wrap's life. During the installation process, the vinyl wrap is applied in strips by hand and any excess is cut away. Often, the wrapper will remove the vehicle's lights and grill to ensure a seamless wrap. On average, the process can take anywhere from twenty to forty hours, depending on the scale and complexity of the project.
The intensive labor involved means that full vehicle wraps can end up on the pricey side; however many Alaska companies offering vehicle wrap services provide a variety of options to choose from including custom logo printing or die-cut lettering.
“3M offers forty different colors of vinyl, so we can match just about any corporate branding, and if that doesn't work, we can print a logo on clear vinyl. The best part is that the vinyl won't hurt the vehicle's paint job and won't leave an adhesive residue, so the resale value of your vehicle won't be affected,” explains Alexander.
In fact, Hahn says that PIP Printing has done all-over, color change wraps on cars even for individual customers. “They customer will bring in a white vehicle and want it to be silver or two-tone. It’s less expensive [than painting] and if you don’t like it, it’s easy to change.”
The relative cost-effectiveness, coupled with the eye-catching nature of vehicle wraps, is why Henry recommends the process to any company looking to develop a brand identity.
“The way someone perceives a business is going to be based on their first impressions. When you see a vehicle pull up at your residence, whether it's a tree removal service or a carpet cleaner, you're ultimately going to have a better impression of their business if their vehicle is professionally branded and looks good. The way I see it, the cost is worth it because you only have one chance to make that first impression,” says Henry.
O'Hara Shipe is a freelance writer in Anchorage.