How is this still a thing? The simple excitement of inflatable advertising

Our advertising landscape continues to rotate around the growth of digital and how digital can be used to further capture the attention of viewers.

Yet there is one type of adverting so simple, so primal, so no-nonsense that even in this computer run society it has survived. We’re talking here, about inflatable, or balloon, advertising.

Balloon advertising, or ‘inflatable brand promotions’ come from the simple idea that catching attention can be done through large, blown up materials with a brand logo imprinted upon them. And of course, it works. 

Car dealerships have long been heralding tube men, their flailing arms and hair enough to not only to divert the eye but also become a social phenomenon a Halloween costume and even banned in Texas for being an eyesore. 

Customer attention and brand recognition is the golden goose for advertising. Yet in our digital age, this is becoming more about clever designs, well-timed promotions and collecting data for further insights. 

Balloon advertising, I believe, strips us down to our basic childlike nature of seeing something large and colourful, and wanting to be involved with it in some way. It’s a simple process by advertisers to say hey, caveman, look here.

According to John Trombik, director of Auckland based Balloon Blitz, inflatables are less forgettable, therefore have thrived in a loud, over-cluttered digital landscape.

“Many forms of advertising including online and out of home becomes clutter and therefore by nature is forgettable very quickly. Advertising balloons, in contrast, are far from forgettable. A client of ours surveyed customers, and the survey showed 90 percent of sales or foot traffic attributable to recognition of the business with the balloon.”

To which Trombik has a point, that today we are over-saturated with online and out-of-home advertising that we become desensitized. Yet the amount we see large purple inflated dogs on top of retail outlets is still a novelty.

He says that even though it works separately to digital, technology is still heavily involved with the inflatable sector.

“The process of balloon design and manufacturing has improved greatly thanks to the advancement in computer graphics, 3d digital modelling and technology. The costs are consequently much lower.”

From left to right: Large inflatable Rottweiler, smaller less inflatable Jack Russell crossing road. 

Trombik, who admits before his current role he had, “…no experience whatsoever in making balloons” says he got into the business as he believed the concept had so much potential, and all it needed was a direction.

Now, the 26-year-old business, after a few ups and downs, has seen steady growth in demand for their niche talents.

“About 24 years ago I bought the business and began making the cold air inflatables here with a local sailmaker. From there we progressed to making balloons for corporates for their marketing use. This led to some spectacularly iconic balloons being built. We also started leasing balloons for long-term use on a 24/7 basis to businesses which became popular.

“From there, a lot of our short-term hires continued. It was the experience of servicing long-term balloon leases that honed our skills in management and design of them to the point now we monitor and control balloons remotely without anyone needing to be on-site”. 

Trombik says in the process of supplying these inflatables, they also work in an advertising way for the business itself, with a lot of clients approaching the company after seeing their work.

“Usually they have a forthcoming promotion, and the client wishes to see what is available or can be done in balloon form to enhance the event or they may have a particular concept in mind. We will if required to provide visual mock-ups 3D which helps the client visualize the finished product.”

3D rendering vs the finished product.

Yet the sector isn’t all sunshine, helium and dancing airmen with Trombik having seen a significant downshift in business even in the last several years.

“There was a significant downward shift about three years ago. A lot of my business was with car dealers and because I was leasing quite a few balloons in that sector, the decline hit me hard and sudden. I suspect lower margins and probably an increase in focus of spend to digital marketing contributed to the decline. In saying that, in the last 16 months there has been an increase in business for me – particularly in retail.”

“A proportion of my business is with Australian marketing personnel in New Zealand. Comment has been made that New Zealand marketing people, in general, appear conservative when it comes to considering advertising balloons.”

Don’t look into its eyes.

Despite inflatable advertising potentially considered as a contributor to “urban visual clutter ruining the aesthetic environment,” according to an informational letter banning advertising balloons in Huston, Texas, the inflatables are still a crowd pleaser if used in the right setting.

“For us what is enjoyable, and satisfying, was making what becomes iconic inflatable characters for corporates that people still remember and talk about. One of those was the inflatable mascot (knight on a horse) we built for the Canterbury Crusaders. One of the very first balloons we made and the most complex. We inflated on the field just before the game amongst smoke machines in front of an unsuspecting crowd and the reaction was amazing.”

Sports balloons are a safe sector, as nothing gets fans more hyped up then compressed air in a nylon sack.

Trombik agrees that a lot of balloon success comes down to the attitudes surrounding them but foresees wider sector improvement as the market becomes more saturated and needs a point of difference.

For him, the reason this is still a thing is simple.

“It’s the satisfaction and reward of seeing creativity coming to physical reality and getting to be involved in that process.”

As for the sector as a whole, Trombik believes inflatable advertising will always have a place due to their many benefits a lot of other forms of advertising miss out on.

“As a form of signage, they have considerable portability advantage over other media. With storing they take up little space and in placement on a building how else can you put a temporary sign as large without a building consent?”

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