Photo: 2CT Media
Yellowstone Landscape works with 2CT Media to refine and improve its graphics packages as it acquires new vehicles and incorporates new companies into its brand.

Lasting impressions: Fleets refine vehicle graphics

Oct. 2, 2020
As vehicle graphics advance, fleets are updating their messaging to target specific demographics and generate a larger return on investment.

First impressions typically last well beyond the initial encounter. For a commercial fleet, making a good first impression could start with vehicle graphics that deliver a strong and consistent message.

Over the years, fleets have used their vehicles as mobile marketing devices to tout services and make a lasting impression to a targeted audience. Take Yellowstone Landscape, for instance. As the largest privately owned commercial landscaping company in North America, Yellowstone has a fleet of more than 2,000 vehicles spread across approximately 40 operating locations in the U.S. In addition to standard commercial pickups, the company utilizes transit vans and heavy-duty tractors.

In 2015, Yellowstone unified its operating companies and began using the Yellowstone Landscape brand identity across all locations, explained Joseph Barnes, Yellowstone’s marketing director. At that time, the company changed out the vehicle graphics on its entire fleet over the course of about six months. Since then, Barnes said the company has continued to refine and improve its graphics packages as it acquires new vehicles and incorporates new companies into its brand.

“We view our fleet as one of our most important forms of advertising and find the fleet extremely impactful in promoting the image of our company,” Barnes said. “We use spot graphics that feature our logo and mark, alongside our brand statement of ‘Excellence in Commercial Landscaping.’ It’s important that our fleet always look its best, whether the asset is a new purchase or nearing its end of service life. That’s why we rely on our graphics vendor to choose materials that don’t fade or peel, regardless of the environment we’re working in.”

Yellowstone works with a graphics provider called 2CT Media, which has an expansive partnership with vehicle graphics giant Avery Dennison. The company is a full provider of fleet graphics—from concept to management. Andy Long, director of business development for 2CT Media, explained that when it comes to trends in vehicle graphics, many fleets are looking to update their messaging and target specific areas or regions.

“People in the Northeast want a certain target or certain brand versus someone in the Southwest,” Long said. “Fleets are looking for longevity, and they are looking to get the best return on their dollar. They are looking for materials and processes that will make it easier for them to get their return on investment (ROI).”

From a marketing standpoint, companies seek the best ROI from the impressions generated by vehicle graphics. Whether fleets decide to implement door decals, vinyl coverings, or full or partial wraps, providers are making it more convenient for fleets looking to swap out graphics quickly for seasonal or promotional messaging, or for those that lease equipment and need graphics removed without damaging equipment at the end of the lease term.

Mobile billboards

Vehicle-based graphics, or mobile marketing, offer fleets an option to target a very specific niche or demographic. Cincinnati-based Advertising Vehicles has been in the vehicle graphics business for the last 17 years. Over the years, Michael Ries, the company’s vice president, has noticed that more fleets are recognizing the value of using assets as rent-free, mobile billboards.

“I’ve definitely been seeing more elaborate designs and fleets using more of the space versus the simple identification graphics that happened so much in the past,” Ries said. “As far as design, it used to be that the graphics needed to say who you are, what you do, and how to get hold of you. Now, the how-to-get-hold-of-you element is gone with the internet and the accessibility of getting in touch with somebody.”

Advertising Vehicles offers a full suite of vehicle graphics—from simple or spot decals to partial and full wraps. Another product offering is the company’s changeable and reusable system, known as Traxx. The Traxx framing system is currently on more than 20,000 trucks and trailers. Once the Traxx framing system is in place on a company’s assets, the fleet can change its message as quickly as a radio or TV commercial, the company stated.

As for targeting specific markets, Ries pointed to a fleet customer that ran a driver-recruiting campaign on the rear of its trucks. So many interested drivers responded to the message that the campaign had to end early.

“The campaign was so successful because it was so targeted and so focused that we had to pull the plug on it quicker than we thought, and they were getting too much of an influx,” Ries said.

Ries also has seen customers use part of their fleet for promotional purposes, while the remainder of the fleet is used to focus on branding and general awareness.

“Some fleets look at these assets as branding billboards—utilizing the full wraps,” he said, “while others might use the asset for a changeable message using the Traxx system.”

Vehicle graphics providers report that an asset will generate around 30,000 daily impressions, giving companies a lower cost per thousands of impressions compared to traditional advertising, such as highway billboards, TV, radio, and print media.

Christian DeRamos, co-owner and managing member of 2CT Media, explained that the average consensus among the industry titans—3M, Avery Dennison, Arlon Graphics, etc.—has been that vehicle graphics generate roughly 101 to 109 impressions per mile. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers have been revised, reporting between 60 and 75 impressions per mile, DeRamos explained. However, urban areas have experienced an increase in impressions lately.

“There are a lot more delivery services now and direct-to-user services,” DeRamos said. “In those smaller areas that are hyper-populated, there are a lot more vehicles on the road doing deliveries, and ad space and marketing space went from over 150 to 200 impressions per mile. Some of our clients have experienced 30% increases in call rates because they wrapped their vehicles.”

Adam Wright, president and CEO of Associated Graphics (AGI) and a former race car driver, got his start in the fleet graphics market in 1998 with industrial designer Roger McPeek, who was managing the graphics program for the Tasman Motorsports Indycar team.

AGI specializes in full-service graphics programs in the U.S. and Canada, from the initial graphic concept to production, removal and installation. AGI’s customer base comprises business fleets, pickups, vans, utility bodies, and emergency vehicle fleets. The company also provides specialty vehicle graphics for trucks and buses that travel to rollouts of retail facilities.

When Wright first started out in fleet graphics, he noticed that there were more door decals on vehicles; larger decals on the backs of vans; and simple, cut vinyl decals on semi-trailers. Then, fleets started to do more with graphics when they started seeing a stronger ROI.

“People were paying for TV commercials and actual billboards on the freeway,” Wright explained. “They started realizing that these are leverageable assets, so people started putting more money into what they were doing on their vehicles.”

As printers and graphics materials became more advanced, vehicle wraps began hitting the fleet graphics scene, and that’s when fleets started incorporating larger pictures on the sides of their vehicles. Initially, vehicle wrapping was an expensive process, Wright said, noting that fleets tended to use wraps only for a rollout of a big product or a big service when they wanted to attract a lot of attention.

Equipment maintenance

Maintenance on vinyl-based graphics is important, especially in markets with harsher climates. DeRamos explained that many customers initially don’t understand that vinyl graphics fail prematurely because they dry out, so regular vehicle washing is key. A small amount of moisture on the surface of the vinyl will help prevent UV-based burning and extend the graphics’ lifespan, which can be anywhere between five and seven years or more.

“The other thing that people don’t realize is that you can treat vinyl graphics as if it’s a painted surface,” DeRamos noted. “You can wax it and you can polish it, but you don’t want to aggressively buff it. You do want to put protectants on it and seal it occasionally.”

AGI’s Wright warned against using a pressure washer on a vehicle wrap. “You want to be aware of what you’re doing and where the seams are in the wrap,” he advised. “Even if it’s just cut vinyl decals on the door, you don’t want to get right up on the edge of the graphics with a power washer.”

Wright also noted that AGI overlays a clear, UV-protective laminate on top of the graphics to help protect the wrapping from the sun, dirt, grime, bumps, and bruises.

Incorporating an inspection of the graphics into regular preventive maintenance (PM) schedules is also a good way to ensure that graphics are still holding up the way they should. Most of Yellowstone Landscaping’s operating locations have technicians and/or shop managers on-site who are responsible for keeping the fleet operational and clean. Regular washes and replacing worn or damaged graphics are a part of the company’s PM routines.

Leasing versus buying

Fleets take a different approach with their graphics when they are leasing equipment, and many leasing companies have different requirements when it comes to graphics. Many fleets often look for a no-damage clause in their warranties, DeRamos said.

“That’s where we really lean on our relationships with Avery Dennison, Arlon, and 3M to make sure that when we spec out for these projects, the film manufacturer supports us in the no-damage clause,” DeRamos explained. “That way when the assets are stripped of graphics at the time of lease turnover, or even lease renewal, we can provide that without damaging the painted surfaces or the finished surfaces of these assets, so the fleet gets full residual value and there are no penalties.”

DeRamos noted that it also helps the company match the lease lifespan of a fleet to the products offered.

“If fleets have a long-term message, we certainly don’t want to offer them a product that is designed to last only one to two years when they have a lease life of five to seven years,” he said. “We want to pair our solution to the life of their lease versus only giving them short-term graphics.”

Conveying the right message

Aside from delivering a company’s core message or as a space for advertisers, fleets could also use their equipment to deliver specific social messages. In the COVID-19 era, for instance, graphics provider Turbo Images has utilized its talent to create a rolling tribute in the form of 15 vehicle wraps on trucks traveling across North America.

“Truck drivers are front-line heroes who have kept our store shelves stocked and the economy moving during the pandemic,” said Pier Veilleux, president and CEO of Turbo Images. “They have risked their own health and safety and experienced isolation, with long hours on the road compounded by necessary physical distancing. We are incredibly grateful for their work, and we hope our messages of support lift their spirits and those of all front-line workers.”

The fleet graphics specialist has produced vehicle wraps with colorful imagery and messages, such as “We appreciate you. We see you. We thank you for your contributions,” and “Thank you, drivers!”

Turbo partnered with Big Rig Wraps and 3M to create the vehicle wraps. The goal has been to support the transportation market and other front-line workers while conveying a lasting impression of hope and gratitude.

When it comes down to it, the main reason fleets implement vehicle graphics is to convey some sort of message. AGI’s Wright advises fleets to stay on brand and to keep the design clean.

“Everything that we do and try to help with is to keep graphics crisp, clean and concise,” Wright said. “People sometimes think the more that they put on there, the more they are getting out of it, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You don’t want to put too much on the vehicle because it gets too confusing.”

DeRamos reiterated that it is important for graphics providers to help fleets target their specific market and accurately promote the company’s culture. “If they have a clean-cut image and then their vehicle graphics are a polar opposite, we try to steer them back toward what their corporate message is,” he said. “We encourage them to not do something completely outside of the box when it comes to their corporate image because it can cause brand confusion.”      

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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