Aerial advertising

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The Goodyear Blimp uses branding and animated lighting displays.
Large aerial advertising array fixed to a Cessna 172 at Fort Lauderdale in 1973. This supported illuminated messages.

Aerial advertising is a form of advertising that incorporates the use of aircraft,[1] flogos,[2] balloons, airships, or drones[3] to create, transport, or display, advertising media.[4] The media can be static, such as a banner, logo, lighted sign[5] or sponsorship branding. It can also be dynamic, such as animated lighted signage, skywriting, or audio.[6]

Prior to World War II aviation pioneer, Arnold Sidney Butler the owner and operator of Daniel Webster Airport (New Hampshire) utilizing his fleet of J3 Cubs created banner towing and was credited with a number of inventions and aircraft modifications used to pickup and release banners. At the start of World War II, the government took over the air strip for military training. Afterward, Arnold Butler moved his aircraft to Florida and formed Circle-A Aviation where he continued his banner towing business. Still today, many of his aircraft remain in service and can be seen in the skies over Miami and Hollywood, Florida.[citation needed]

Aerial advertising is effective if a large target audience is gathered near the source of advertising.[7] Balloons, skywriting, and banner towing are usually strategically located. Long-range vehicles such as blimps and flogos can reach a broader audience along their flight route. Secondary distribution such as news media coverage, word of mouth and photos of aerial advertising can reach an extended audience. Due to safety, privacy, and aesthetic reasons, the ability to perform aerial advertising is regulated by local and federal entities throughout the world.[8]

Employment methods[edit]


Hot air balloons advertising a furniture removals company in Canberra, 2006.

Advertising can be carried on the envelope of a conventional hot air balloon, or the envelope can be constructed into a specific shape to advertise a product. Research from the United States suggests that the direct cost of balloon advertising "per thousand opportunities to see" is lower than for newspapers, posters, radio or television.[9][non-primary source needed]


Blimps are effective carriers of mobile billboards due to their slow speed, long loiter time and inexpensive fuel costs.[citation needed] The first British airship, built by Stanley Spencer in 1902, was funded by an advertisement for baby food carried on its envelope.[10] The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company first used aerial advertising in 1925, when the company created its first in-house series, the Goodyear Type AD.[citation needed]

Fixed-wing aircraft[edit]

The most common type of fixed-wing aircraft used for mobile billboards and aerial advertising are single reciprocating engine aircraft, such as converted crop dusters. While on the ground, operators attach a grapple hook and a towline to the rear of the aircraft. Once in flight, the operator comes back and links the grapple hook to the banner, billboard, or streamer while in flight. The wind resistance created during the natural course of flight causes the banner to stream out behind the aircraft, allowing it to be easily seen by those nearby.

Because of the relatively low speed and altitude ceiling of propeller aircraft, this type is generally favored for the deployment of mobile billboards when fixed-wing aircraft are used. All metropolitan areas in the U.S. can be serviced except New York City and Washington, D.C. which have restricted airspace.[citation needed]


The growing popularity of consumer-grade and industry-grade unmanned aerial vehicles (particularly, quadcopter drones) led several companies to consider the opportunities of commercial application of such devices. For instance, Google and Amazon have plans of using drones as means of delivery, while the Coca-Cola Company, Lakemaid Beer, Paramount Pictures, and Wokker have already used them in a number of advertising campaigns. The cases of advertising-related application include the distribution of branded products, as well as drones carrying banners.[11][12]


Skyvertising with Flogos, flying foam shapes

Flogos[13] ("flying“ and "logos“) are stable foam shapes, customizable motifs made out of foam, which are suitable for both outdoor and indoor and once released into the air can float or fly into the air. In a special machine a patented foam fluid is combined with water and helium to make the foam. The generated foam gets pressed through a stencil which will determine its individual shape. Flogos are customized to suit needs and can be shapes, logos, symbols and words. The machine can also work for more complex motifs as well. They are produced continuously at a rate of one every 15 – 20 seconds in sizes of almost 100 cm. It can be written in the sky, the reason why they are often linked to the term "skyvertising“[14]

Helicopter Banners[edit]

This technique involves printing many rows of fabric and joining them to create one very large flag which is towed below a helicopter. Typical sizes of these banners are 20,000 sq/ft and visible for great distances due to their scale compared to plane banners. also incorporate a weight bag release system that is sewn into the leading edge of the banner allowing them to fly over populated areas.

Large Format Printed Aerial Advertising Banner

Kite systems[edit]

For centuries kite systems have been employed to fly advertisements. Messages have been on wing covers as well as hung on the tether set of the kite systems. Logos, greetings, purchased advertising messages, political messages, religions celebration symbols, event-marking art, promotional phrases, and flags are frequently flown by kites. Advertising by kites is one of the many kite applications. William A. Eddy was an early pioneer in using kites for advertising.[15]

Rotorcraft aircraft[edit]

Sky Sign Inc. created, patented and holds various STC's for their aerial LED based signs. These signs attach to popular rotorcraft and fixed wing aircraft, including Robinson's R22 and Cesna's 172.[16][non-primary source needed]


Skywriting over a cemetery in New South Wales in 2009.

Sky-writing by fixed-wing aircraft, combined with the use of a vapor projector, remains popular with major advertisers, especially movies, TV, and insurance companies.[citation needed] It is most effective in brand awareness with short, dramatic messages and occasionally for "spectaculars" such as marriage proposals. The practice of sky-writing is known to be one of the safest forms of flying as it is only done in clear skies with smooth air (winds can be strong but smooth) and usually in controlled airspace, where radar separation is provided between planes.


Modern proponents of aerial advertising hold the position that it is a cost-effective method to reach otherwise isolated pockets of consumers (such as people stuck in rush-hour traffic, or at the beach, where advertising tends to be limited). Aerial advertisements, according to the service providers, give a company the opportunity to target specific customers based on their geographical location and related demographics. The benefits of aerial advertising, banner towing in particular, include a high recall rate[17] and increased engagement with a brand through social media.[18][19][non-primary source needed]

Detractors of aerial advertising maintain it has a highly limited and ineffective scope in the age of the internet. In particular, they state that the use of aircraft near two major metropolitan regions (NYC and D.C.) tends to be tightly regulated and restricted, and that, at least in the U.S., the use of aerial advertisement over sporting events with 30,000 or more in attendance is prohibited. Aerial advertising planes do fly before the events over the masses of tailgaters. A 2003 article by the Associated Press reports that aerial advertisement companies had lost a preliminary injunction against new federal security regulations, and all data indicate that the use of civilian fixed-wing aircraft over sporting events in the U.S. is forbidden.[20]

Studies by advertisers have shown that mobile billboards carried by aircraft have a limited local exposure but a high consumer recall and retention rate— in other words, customers who see the ad tend to recall the message or product being displayed at a higher rate than with most other forms of advertising, but the region where the advertisement is displayed is limited to the flight path of the aircraft. The reason for this higher retention rate is unclear, but it can be postulated that it is due to the relatively unusual method in which the advertisement is displayed; the novelty of seeing a message in an unfamiliar way helps consumers to remember the message. Viral marketing and stealth marketing are excellent examples of this idea put to work in the modern day.

Examples of use[edit]

Spencer's 1902 airship in flight, showing the advertising for Mellin's Food


There are some inherent dangers involved in the operation of low-altitude manned aircraft. Most of the fixed-wing aerial advertisement accidents that have occurred in the U.S. have been determined by the United States Federal Aviation Administration to be the result of just a few basic causes:[24]

  • Problems during the pickup/deployment of the banner
  • Banner tow lines that become tangled or snarled

Some of the specific areas of danger include grapple hook deployment errors, and banner pickup errors. If the grapple hook is not released in a satisfactory manner, it can snarl on the tailwheel or in the landing gear itself, fouling the landing and causing an improper landing or a crash event. Once the grapple hook is deployed, the aircraft must approach the banner pickup in a descent using the energy of the shallow dive, and then rotate with application of full power to pick up the banner. Professional banner companies have training programs which comply with the FAA guidelines for aerial banner operations.[citation needed] However, safety reasons may lead local authorities to consider banning some forms of aerial advertising in populated areas.[25]

Risk mitigation[edit]

Modern companies have employed a new, patented, methodology of banner towing that greatly reduces the risks associated with the older, grappling hook method. With the new take-off technique, the pilot no longer has to pick up the banner in the tow hook - a time-consuming and technically demanding manoeuvre. Instead, the pilot can take the banner, already set up for towing, directly from the hangar across the taxiway to the airstrip, and then carry out a normal take-off.[26]

A technical innovation makes the ground start possible. Wheels are mounted on both sides of the banner tube system, so the front part of the banner runs on rollers. This counteracts the effect which would otherwise be created between the banner and the ground over which it is towed, sucking the banner downwards.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roncace, Kelly (July 25, 2015). "Nation's oldest banner plane business celebrates 70 years soaring above Jersey Shore". 
  2. ^ Thompson, Andrea (April 15, 2008). "Sky-High Ads Float Like Clouds". 
  3. ^ Casey, Michael (July 29, 2015). "Amazon wants to create a drone superhighway". CBS News. 
  4. ^ O'Guinn, Allen, Richard J. Semenik. Promo. p. 240. 
  5. ^ Aerial Age Weekly. 18 October 1915. 
  6. ^ Billboard. March 19, 1955. 
  7. ^ Smith, Ronald D. Strategic planning for public relations. 
  8. ^ Hill, James. Civil Aviation (Aerial Advertising) Regulations 1995. 
  9. ^ "Bailey Balloons - Balloon Advertising & Sponsorship". [non-primary source needed]
  10. ^ Duke, Neville and Lanchbery, Edward (1959) The Crowded Sky: an anthology of flight from the beginnings to the age of the guided missile, Cassel (p. 47)
  11. ^ Richard Feloni and Aaron Taube (September 29, 2014). "These Drone-Based Advertisements Were Super Cool And Only A Little Creepy". Business Insider. Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  12. ^ Andrew Zaleski (August 27, 2014). "For one student, dreams of drone-based advertising take flight". Fortune. Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  13. ^ "FLOGOS Deutschland". 
  14. ^ "FLOGOS Europe – the original". 
  15. ^ "William Abner Eddy at Drachen Foundation". 
  16. ^ "Sky Sign Inc. Advertising With a Whole New Dimension". [non-primary source needed]
  17. ^[non-primary source needed]
  18. ^[non-primary source needed]
  19. ^[non-primary source needed]
  20. ^ "Aerial ad companies still grounded". First Amendment Center. Associated Press. September 3, 2003. Archived from the original on 2004-01-27. Retrieved 2014-11-23. 
  21. ^ "Papers Past - Christchurch Star, 31 December 1903, WAYS OF AIRSHIPS (p. 2)". 
  22. ^ McWhirter, Norris and Alan, ed. (October 1975). New Guinness Book of Records: 22nd edition. Guinness World Records Limited. p. 89. ISBN 0900424265. 
  23. ^ "PoliticsPA's Top Summer Vacation Spots". PoliticsPA. Archived from the original on 2003-02-02. 
  24. ^ "INFORMATION FOR BANNER TOW OPERATIONS (FAA/FS-I-8700-1)" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. March 27, 2003. Retrieved 2014-11-23. 
  25. ^ Namowitz, Dan (August 1, 2013). "Aerial advertising ban under study in Austin, Texas". Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 
  26. ^ a b Biburger, Frank. "Skygraphics Luftwerbung - Technik - Bodenstart".