Talk about old school: They were once the norm, and now they’re back
Years ago, nearly all out of home signage was painted by hand. It took a lot of time but the results were gorgeous and really caught the eye.
Alas, that method was largely phased out with the rise of cheaper and quicker billboard alternatives such as printing on vinyl.
In recent years, however, hand-painted billboards have been making a comeback as a cool, old-school form of OOH advertising capable of drumming up as much interest on social media as they do among passersby.
Hand-painted billboards also build a huge amount of buzz through the painting and installation of the display, which attracts attention over several days.
To find out how to get your client on a hand-painted ad, read on.
This is one in a Media Life series on buying out-of-home venues. They appear weekly.
Hand-painted signs and billboards.
Most larger markets have companies that hand-paint signs, and there are also a handful of bigger companies that work across multiple markets.
How it works
Designers first work up the image on paper, then painters transfer an outline of the image onto the surface being painted.
Most projects employ one to six painters, usually highly trained artists. It takes three to seven days for the billboard to be painted.
Paints used can range from water-based latexes to be oil-based enamel to artists’ oils.
Drying time depends on the climate. On a hot summer day the paint can dry very quickly, but generally it will be dry by the end of the day or the next morning.
The amount of paint used depends based on how big the job is and how many colors are involved, but the cost is usually built into the contract.
Just about any surface can be used, as long as it’s clean and dry. Older ads can be painted over, though it may take a few coats to completely cover the previous ad.
Traditional billboard signage can be painted, but which structures can be used comes down to local zoning codes and the billboard owners’ permission.
In busy urban areas, painted ads are often at street level on the sides of buildings, and here the benefits of hand painted signage really stand out versus screen-printed signage.
“When it’s on the side of a building, it’s more in your face. When you paint red, it’s a true, rich red,” says Dan Madsen, founder of the painting company Dusty Signs in Minneapolis.
“And the aspect of when you’re painting it, it’s like a performance piece almost. Instead of getting as many up as possible, let’s slow down and do a few great ones.”
Billboards can be hand-painted in any market where billboards are available, but larger wallscape-style painted ads are typically only available in the top 15-20 markets. Larger markets such as New York and Los Angeles have large walls that almost exclusively feature hand-painted ads.
There are no reliable numbers for the number of painted billboards.
Since any billboard can be painted, here’s the breakdown for billboards generally: This year there are 158,868 bulletin (14-by-48-foot) displays in the U.S., according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. There are also 165,606 posters (12?-by-25?), 33,336 junior posters (6?-by-12?) and 4,029 walls or spectaculars.
How it is measured
As for all billboards, data from the Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement can be used to measure hand-painted ads.
What product categories work well
Recent or current hand-painted advertisers include beer/liquor, entertainment, video games, auto, consumer packaged goods and apparel/accessories.
As they do for advertising on traditional billboards, demographics vary by city and area of each market. Advertisers can execute campaigns in areas where their target audience lives or works.
Making the buy
Lead time is the same as for traditional printed billboards, which varies based on location and availability.
Pricing varies depending on demand and location, but buyers can expect to spend at least $10,000 to $15,000 in production costs for hand-painted ads.
Who’s already used hand-painted signage
Current or recent brands that have used hand-painted OOH advertising include Coors Light, Snickers, Smirnoff, Cadillac, Netflix, Gillette, Converse, Ray Ban, Blue Moon, Red Bull and MTV.
What they’re saying
“Advertising at its core has always been about bringing attention to a message, so we’ve begun building new execution concepts around taking time instead of racing against it. The idea that there’s a story unfolding hour by hour, day by day, while we’re working brings a massive level of untapped value to a message that can’t be had anywhere else.” — Paul Lindahl, vice president at Colossal Media.