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Custom Printing: Advertising Options at the Beach

Photo purchased from …

Here it is spring already. At this rate it will soon be time for the beach. I can already feel it in the air.

When I think back to visits my fiancee and I have made to Ocean City, DE, one of the things I remember most clearly are the advertisements. I know that makes me a commercial printing nerd, but so be it. Ocean City would not be a thriving center of commerce if not for all the advertisements, from the signage to the banners, that seem to focus on only two things: food and beauty.

Here are some thoughts on the various vehicles for beach advertising and why they are effective.

The Kites

In this case, we are similar to our house cats. We love color and movement. We also want “that,” “the pretty, shiny thing they have,” whatever that might be.

On the boardwalk in Ocean City there is a kite store that has been in business as long as I can remember. They always have kites in the air, presumably tethered to something on the ground. These kites are colorful and diverse, and it looks like it would be fun to own one and fly it on the beach.

Presumably, it is no accident that I feel this way. I’m sure the marketing team at the kite store knows that the vivid color and movement of the kites will attract my attention far more effectively than any signage. At best, signs tell a story, while actual products show you what you’re missing.


At the beach there are a lot of things you can do with a small airplane that go far beyond flying from one location to another.

In my recollection of more than 45 years’ worth of trips to Ocean City, the skywriting has been one of the more intriguing. Maybe it’s because skywriting requires supreme control over the plane. (I’ve never seen one lose control, although I’m sure that happens.) Maybe it’s because of the movement (as noted above with the kites). And perhaps it’s because of our innate desire to know the whole story. Skywriting starts as meaningless lines of airplane exhaust. Then the lines evolve into words. Then a sentence. Once you start watching, you just have to see the whole thing.

Large Format Print Signage Tethered to Boats and Airplanes

I’m sure you could go through piles of photographs of Ocean City and see airplanes and boats trailing banners of some kind, even going back to the ‘50s or ‘60s, or probably even earlier. Back then we didn’t have digital signage. But the idea is related. If your potential clients for a meal with drinks or the newest beachwear are in beach chairs on the sand, nothing works as well as advertising that doesn’t require them to change their positions or even turn their heads.

Just sit, stare straight ahead, and absorb the advertiser’s message. It’s just like watching television.

Digital Signage

The first place I saw digital signage was in Ocean City, maybe 20 years ago. I remember how fascinated I was, and how I tried to wrap my brain around exactly how and why I knew it would be a winner. Then my fiancee and I saw it in the movie theaters during the decade we worked as standee installers. Then it was in the malls. Then it was everywhere.

In the case of Ocean City digital signage, I initially saw what looked like a matrix of individual pixels on which the colors changed in ways that allowed simple text and images to travel across the signs. The large size of the pixels made the signage look computer-generated or artificial in contrast to the digital signs we now see in strip malls near our house (which seem to be of much higher resolution). These images look more like movies projected in endless loops.

In either case, even with the more primitive equipment we initially saw at the beach, what made digital signage stand apart from other large format print signage was not just the movement (like the kites noted above, which would have intrigued a cat as well as a person) but also the ability of digital signage to present a narrative.

In my opinion, digital signage compared to static large format print signage is like a movie compared to a photo. This is due to two characteristics of the medium. Digital signage may include both sound and visuals (print signage only speaks to one sense: the sense of sight). And digital signage can both tell about, and show, multiple events over time. It can transmit more information and, like the kites, tease the viewer with more color and movement.

And, as with any type of advertising, the longer the ad holds your attention, the more chance it has of getting you to buy something.

Vehicle Wraps

These used to be rare. In fact, I think that before vehicle wraps, the kind of similar advertising that caught my attention was the mini-billboard situated in the rear of a small flatbed truck. I saw these in Ocean City, too. The vehicles were small versions of regular delivery trucks, but instead of a covered bed (like the structure built around an 18-wheeler load), there was a double-sided display board running the length of the truck. An advertiser could pay for advertising (like a miniature billboard) that would travel through Ocean City telling the advertiser’s story.

But once inkjet large format printing came into its own, and once advertisers could print imagery on vinyl flexible enough to glue to all exterior plastic panels of a car (or a bus or a truck), there was far more room to advertise.

Having seen wrapped vehicles traveling through Washington, DC, before I saw them in Ocean City, I was still struck by how they stood out from all the other cars. I think this is one of the reasons they are effective. First of all, back in the day they were rare. I would see maybe one car a month completely covered with large format print imagery. Like the panel trucks carrying a two-sided billboard, they stood out because they were unique.

Plus, as noted before, there was a lot more room to advertise, especially with perforated vinyl mesh. (I’ve heard it called 60/40 mesh because 60 percent is the printed image and 40 percent is the matrix of tiny holes.)

You might have seen printed vinyl mesh on a bus. From the outside, the vinyl-printed imagery can cover not only the sides of the bus but but also the windows. This provides an unbroken surface (almost the entirety of the vehicle) on which to advertise. But from the inside, you can still see through the windows because of all the tiny holes in the perforated vinyl.

The Takeaway

So if you’re a designer or marketing person, consider the options you have. Moreover, consider using the same type and imagery across a number of these options distributed across the geographic location in which you are advertising. Brand consistency sells.

Keep in mind that variety, movement, and color will attract attention and allow you to present a memorable sales message.

Novelty is important, too. The digital signage and even the vehicle wraps stood out, for me at least, because I hadn’t seen them before.

And nothing sells like the product itself (when I was growing up, department stores used to have people demonstrating cooking tools right in the middle of the store). The kites in Ocean City, for instance, are a good sales tool because they appeal to the inner child within all of us and evoke our happy childhood memories.

They do a good job of this in Ocean City. Moreover, it’s a seamless, coordinated presentation across multiple media.

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