Aerial Advertising: The Marketers of Aerial Work Aviation

In the world of marketing and advertisement, the goal is to grab the attention and persuade the general public to respond in a certain way. So, what better than an aircraft flying above all the annoying ‘eye-level’ billboards, circulars, and leaflets invading your personal space. In this month’s Aerial Work articles, Patrick Ryan, like a banner-towing pilot flying slowly along a Florida beachfront, will ‘grab your attention' and persuade you that Aerial Advertising plays a significant part in marketing and aviation.

Patrick Ryan  |  13th May 2022
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    Patrick Ryan
    Patrick Ryan

    Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and business...

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    Aerial Advertising: The Marketers of Aerial Work Aviation

    Have you ever been relaxing on a beachfront and been mesmerized by an airplane slowly towing a banner overhead? It was probably captivating as you tried to guess the message they were pulling through the sky. With this, the advertiser has captured your attention for much longer than they would with a billboard, promotional material in your mailbox, or an ad in the local newspaper. 

    Studies have shown that more than 70 percent of people who have seen an aerial advertisement will remember when, where, and what was presented. This statistic is far better than the average form of advertising. Furthermore, the benefits of aerial advertising keep multiplying, making aerial advertising a form of marketing that is becoming far more popular and in-demand than the other forms of advertising. 

    The specific reason for this is that Aerial Advertisement has an eco-friendly operating footprint and is less expensive than traditional advertising methods. The answer is evident when comparing the CO2 emission output of printing, distributing, and recycling mass amounts of advertising material, to a single aircraft towing a banner. 

    Additionally, the cost savings between traditional ground-based printing and delivery of advertising versus aerial advertising are immense and profitable. 

    What is Aerial Advertising? 

    At its core, advertising is a marketing message that utilises a non-personal message to promote or sell a product, service, or idea.Sponsors of advertising are typically companies wishing to promote their services or products. However, many charities and non-profit groups use Aerial Advertisement services to promote a cause or request donations. 

    When it comes to Aerial Advertisement, this specialised Aerial Work sector applies advertising techniques using an aircraft. In addition, Aerial Advertising uses both static and dynamic advertisement methods. 

    The type of aircraft used varies from manned aircraft and other means such as drones. Aerial Advertising is mainly used in highly populated areas or mass gatherings, e.g., city centres, stadiums, beaches, or open-air music festivals. Advertisers can quickly draw mass-scale attention to their products or services by leveraging the sky in these locations.

    Is This a New Promotional Method? 

    Not at all. The Aerial Advertising sector can trace its history back to the 1920s. With a post-World War I surplus of aircraft and pilots, the aviation community quickly adapted its capabilities to the needs and pioneering spirit of the modern-day marketing and advertisement world. Some of the early pioneers of aerial advertising include: 

    • John C. Savage — Early in the 1920s, John Savage, a former RAF pilot, is credited for developing the first skywriting ad method and helping expand skywriting services in England and across the United States. 
    • Arnold Sidney Butler — Before World War II, Arnold Butler, a business entrepreneur, utilised a fleet of Piper J-3 Cubs, implemented the towing banner concept, and was recognised for many inventions and aircraft modifications used to pick up and release banners. 

    Since the 1930s and over the years, major corporations like Pepsi-Cola Corporation, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and many more made aerial advertising an essential part of their marketing strategy. Early on, many corporations and small businesses realised how compelling Aerial Advertising could capture the attention of a large number of people in a short period.

    Is Aerial Advertising Just Banner Towing? 

    Absolutely not! There are many types of aerial advertising delivery methods. The types of Aerial Advertising are divided into static and dynamic displays. Static advertising consists of logos imprinted on aircraft, light signs, and banners. Dynamic advertising consists of skywriting, animated lighted signage, or even loudspeaker broadcasting. The primary, or most popular, types of Aerial Advertising methods are: 

    • Mobile Billboard: Mobile billboard is stamping, magnetically attaching, or painting a logo or other advertising information onto the fuselage of an aircraft. In the case of balloons, the shape of the balloon can be constructed to resemble anything from a whisky bottle to a luxury car. 
    • Skywriting or Skytyping: Skywriting and Skytyping uses one or more small fixed-wing aircraft, expels special smoke from the exhaust manifold during flight, and flies in specific patterns that create readable letters and images from the ground. 
    • Banner Towing: Banner towing is where a sign is towed or dragged behind a small fixed-wing aircraft or slung underneath a helicopter. There are three types of banners used in banner towing, they are: 
    • Standard Letters: Standard letter banners use standard letters consisting of either 5-foot-high or 7-foot-high letters linked together by connections designed for interchangeability. Standard letters have been the prevalent form of banner towing for the past few decades. A typical light aircraft can tow 25 7-foot letters or 35 5-foot letters. 
    • Aerial Billboards: Aerial billboards consist of a large area of nylon cloth and are painted or dyed with a sun inhibitor for protection. This type of banner allows for vivid pictures and can be towed either behind an aircraft or below a helicopter. Fixed-wing aircraft-towed billboards tend to be rectangular. Helicopter billboards veer to be square in shape to prevent the top corner from drooping. In general, aerial billboards are as large as 50 feet tall and 100 feet long, allowing for 1500 square feet of visibility. 
    • Logo Banners: Aerial logo banners are often ads without or with limited words. For example, a billboard containing only the company’s logo is pulled over a large gathering of people as a reminder of their service or product, i.e., for brand awareness. However, some logo banners might have a smaller Standard Letter banner attached at the end to provide additional information. This technique is most often used for advertising a brand but can also be used for a marriage proposal or party invitation.

    What Kind of Aircraft do Aerial Advertisers Use

    When it comes to Aerial Advertising, in general, high-flying fast jets don’t provide the low & slow dwell-time for viewers to comprehend and understand the advertised message. 

    The exception is aerobatic teams like The Flying Redbulls and the Breitling Jet Team that perform with their sponsor’s logo-painted aircraft, i.e., ‘Mobile Billboard’ advertising. 

    The standard aircraft types used in Aerial Advertising are manned fixed-wing, rotor-wing, and lighter-than-air platforms. Following manned aircraft is a mix of unique controlled or uncontrolled unmanned platforms. 

    The specific description of these types of Aerial Advertising aircraft are: 

    Fixed-Wing Aircraft 

    The most common fixed-wing aircraft used for mobile billboards and aerial advertising are light single-engine GA aircraft, especially in the short takeoff and landing (STOL) category. 

    The standard fixed-wing banner-towing operation involves an operator attaching a grappling hook and a towline to the aircraft’s empennage before the flight. Once in flight, the operator flies back and conducts an aerial pickup of the banner, billboard, or streamer. While in flight, the wind resistance causes the banner to flow out behind the aircraft, allowing it to be clearly seen by those nearby.

    Regarding Skywriting & Skytyping, the aircraft used are usually single-engine aerobatic or classic warbird aircraft. The skywriting process usually uses one airplane, releasing a steady stream of smoke to produce a single image or letter. Skywriting messages are typically made at 3,000 feet and are limited to a few letters because of the winds. Skytyping consists of several aircraft quickly flying in line formation, releasing puffs of smoke under computer control, e.g., comparable to characters produced by a dot-matrix printer. These messages are generally written at 10,000 feet and can be up to 1,250 feet high and over five miles long. 

    Some of the popular types of aircraft used today for banner towing and skywriting are: 

    • Piper Aircraft — J-3 Cub 
    • Cessna Corporation — C150, C172 
    • North American — T-6 Texan 

    Rotor-Wing Aircraft 

    In the world of Aerial Advertising, helicopters are primarily used as mobile billboards and for banner towing. Therefore, the typical type of platform used is the light-lift helicopter. 

    Outside of painting logos, etc., on the outside of a helicopter (mobile billboarding), helicopters can tow or slash large flags, typically made by joining many rows of printed fabric to create one image. The typical size of these banners is 20,000 sq ft, making them visible for greater distances, due to their scale, than typical fixed-wing aircraft banners.

    Like many other Aerial Work sectors that use helicopters for specialised lifting, these helicopters are frequently employed to tow banners and more: 

    • Robinson — R22R44 
    • Bell — Bell 407s 
    • Airbus Helicopters — H125

    Lighter-than-Air (LTA) Platforms 

    The types of LTAs used in Aerial Advertisement are both manned and unmanned airships, free balloons, and kite balloons. LTAs are primarily used as mobile billboards and, in some cases, for unique dynamic advertising, e.g., beaming branded WiFi signals, aerial filming, and more. LTAs are effective advertisement platforms due to their slow speed, long loiter time, and inexpensive fuel costs. Additionally, LTAs are used outdoors and indoors, i.e., in enclosed event arenas, stadiums, etc.

    Some of the popular types of LTAs used today are: 

    • Lighter-Than-Air — Tailor-made hot air balloons 
    • MicroFlight Inc. — eBlimp 
    • Egan Airships Inc. — Plimp Airships


    Drones are the apprentices of the Aerial Advertising sector. Even though this technology has been around for almost a decade, it is still not used at the same level as manned advertising aircraft because of regulatory and public-perception issues. However, the commercial drone community continues to explore and innovate with unique ways of applying the methods of aerial advertisement to the current capabilities of a drone. 

    The drone Aerial Advertising sector mainly utilises quadcopters and octocopters for banner towing and mobile billboards. Like LTAs, they’re used in special dynamic advertisements, e.g., air-dropping branded products or freebies, plus conducting high-performance choreography swarm light shows – very similar to skywriting but without the oily smoke. 

    Depending on the type of advertising, the leading drone platforms used for such unique dynamic services are: 

    • UVify Inc. — IFO – S 
    • DJI — s1000 Octocopter 
    • CAT UAV — EXO C2-L

    The Future of Aerial Advertising 

    Like many other Aerial Work aviation sectors, the future looks very good. With the ever-increasing demand by companies to draw more and more attention to their products and services in an innovative and ‘eye-catching’ way, the need for unique and innovative delivery methods like aerial advertising will continue to be in demand. 

    With new types of technology proliferating every day, the aerial advertising community will for sure improve on traditional methods and introduce new concepts, i.e., more dynamic vs. static marketing. 

    Therefore, it is not ‘out-of-the-realm-of-possibilities’ that Aerial Advertisement will become part of a virtual ‘real-time’ marketing network vs. just a stand-alone static flying billboard. 

    The Last Ad 

    As you can see, the answer to the previous questions shows that Aerial Advertising is more than a classic Piper PA-18 Super Cub towing an advertisement banner through the sky. The Aerial Advertising sector of Aerial Work aviation has the power to grab, cost-effectively and through various methods and aircraft, the attention of large and concentrated masses of people in a short period. 

    While Aerial Advertising is not the daily invading of mailboxes with loads of paper advertisements, many advertisers adore it for its potential to ‘Shock & Awe’ people at the right time and place. From small businesses to large corporations, they appreciate the unique approach Aerial Advertisement provides, and love the feedback it draws to their services or products. 

    So, the next time you’re at a sporting event or sun-tanning on a sunny beach and an aircraft slowly flies across your view with a banner, remember that the pilots and aircraft that are advertising are part of a very focused and important part of the global economy and of Aerial Work Aviation.

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