For as long as businesses have had products to sell, they have called on signwriters to promote their wares.
From traditional, hand-painted, oil-based paints to the computer- generated designs on the vinyl wraps that now predominate, operators have sought to turn their light commercial vehicles into mobile advertising billboards.
Sole traders, such as plumbers, electricians and decorators, typically use their vans to increase awareness of their business in their local area. They operate within a small radius of base and are often parked outside properties they are working in.
The surface area of the van sign written is usually small and only includes basic contact details.
Medium-sized businesses and PLCs are more concerned with building a brand image. The livery often includes service offerings and replications of media advertising campaigns. This involves the use
of large sheets of graphic vinyl covering a high percentage of the surface area.
Customer-facing operations taking this approach include supermarkets’ home delivery services and daily rental fleets.
Franchisees, who also rely on heavy branding, tend to go in for partial or full wraps to protect the original brand image. Typical examples include parcel delivery firms and emergency locksmiths. Franchise agreements often stipulate the removal of livery upon disposal because the branding is so distinctive.
Utility companies and local authorities require distinctively branded vehicles. Their vans are often parked in public places and need to be easily recognised by the public.
Emergency and roadside services operators use high-visibility reflective vinyl for safety purposes to ensure the vehicle can be seen in all weather and lighting conditions.
Manheim Remarketing says that of all the commercial vehicles it has collected in the past five years only 11% had no sign writing applied to them. In contrast 74% carried some sort of livery or branding, and the remaining 15% had a vinyl body wrap covering more than half the vehicle.
Vehicle wrapping specialist Creative FX, based in Bromley, Kent, numbers sole traders to manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes and Renault, to London council fleets including Lewisham and Newham, among its clients.
Director Sean Davis maintains that a vehicle wrap is “by far the cheapest form of advertising you can buy”.
Paying £1000 for a Ford Transit wrap that lasts three years is “peanuts” he claims, compared to paying twice as much for a bill poster that will “stay up for a week”.
Davis cites research by vinyl wrap manufacturer 3M, which found that a commercial vehicle operating in a busy area is seen by 120,000 people a week.
Creative FX is authorised by Avery and 3M and its wraps carry manufacturer warranties of three, five or seven years. Davis said the company would apply livery to somewhere around 2500 vans
“Demand is increasing because the designs are improving,” he declares.
Another area of increasing popularity is contra-vision perforated wraps that can be applied to rear windows.
“No one can see in but you can see out,” says Davis.
Gary Stanley, marketing manager for Stewart Signs, whose clients include National Grid, Scottish and Southern Electric and BT, says the company offers three main choices of finish: a Promotional Wrap covers the main part of the van with cut arounds on badges and costs £900 to £1500, the Standard Wrap leaves commonly unseen surfaces like the roof uncovered and costs 20% less than the
Paint Replacement, which wraps the entire vehicle body, including internal recesses and door frames, giving the appearance of a total re-spray.
This involves the removal and replacement of door handles and badges and costs from £1500 for a small van to £3000 for a heavy van such as a Mercedes Sprinter.
Although wrapping a van up in vinyl can boost its residual values by protecting paintwork from minor damage it is important to avoid damage when removing the material.
Stewart Signs’ marketing boss Gary Stanley says the firm decommissions livery at the end of a campaign when adhesives need to be chemically removed: “When specifying a livery we take into account the life of the campaign, the client’s budget and proposed removal method to find the best specification.”
Historically, he says used PVC film wraps went to landfill in accordance with ISO:1401 environmental regulations, but that could change with advancing technologies.
“We are testing greener products, which we hope can be re-purposed or recycled,” he says.
Manheim Remarketing removes more than 1.0 million sq ft of sign writing every year – which is enough to cover 20 football pitches.
A Manheim survey found that a small van sold at auction with a full wrap still in situ was worth up to £300 less while a liveried large van would lose up to £500 because buyers have to factor in the cost and time to remove it.
Manheim warned vendors if they instruct a vehicle to be auctioned with livery intact, the buyer is not obliged to remove it. The vendor thus risks the vehicle damaging its brand or reputation if the vehicle is subsequently involved in illegal or unethical activities.