Make Your Trucks Mobile Billboards, Not Bulletin Boards

Nov. 1, 2006
Many service providers treat their trucks like mobile bulletin boards, not billboards. They clutter them up with an excess of decals, phone numbers, manufacturer

Many service providers treat their trucks like mobile bulletin boards, not billboards. They clutter them up with an excess of decals, phone numbers, manufacturer logos, messages, etc. The consumer only has a few seconds to register and record the information on the truck. The more clutter that’s there, the less likely it is that any one message will come through, or that the right message will come through.

Vehicles get cluttered in four ways: manufacturer logos are slapped all over the vehicle, banal bromides and service platitudes are spelled in the form of slogans, phone numbers proliferate, and bumper stickers abound.

Manufacturer Logos

What about manufacturer logos? What’s wrong with them? Many business owners believe that they will benefit from associating with a well-recognized brand. I’ve spouted that line when I worked for a manufacturer, but more and more I have my doubts.

If your vehicle has your logo and one or more manufacturer’s logos, whose logo stands out? Frankly, it’s usually the manufacturer. The manufacturer already has more exposure in more places than you do.

Consumers see the manufacturer’s ads, their products, and often their name (on your competitors’ vehicles no less) more often than yours. They gravitate towards the familiar and remember the image with the most repetition, which is not your image. Not only are you adding to the clutter, you’re placing the most important element on your mobile billboard (your name and logo) in second position.

The big retailers will advertise the brands they sell, but it’s always for a specific product and usually in print advertising. They certainly don’t clutter up their storefronts and outside signage with other brands (the In-Sink-Erator logo doesn’t hang from the Home Depot sign; an Ortho logo won’t appear over the entrance to a Lowe’s; Toys "R" Us has Geoffrey the Giraffe on the front of their stores, not the latest Barbie doll from Mattel).

When the manufacturer’s brand is heavily promoted, the implicit message is that it’s the manufacturer that counts; it must not matter where it’s purchased. Is that what you believe? If so, you’re wrong! YOU and YOUR COMPANY are more important than the manufacturers you carry. You never want to communicate anything else.


Why are slogans bad? What’s wrong with them? If it’s a simple, clean slogan (your unique selling proposition), it may be appropriate. However, it’s meaningless to tell most consumers that you’re “radio dispatched” or that you offer “24-hour service.” The consumer will reason, “Doesn’t everyone?” Even if those bromides were meaningful, the truck isn’t the place to push the message. A consumer can only read so much when the vehicle’s in traffic. Keep it simple.

The one exception is the field of service. Don’t assume the consumer knows what business you’re in. Tell them. If you’re a locksmith, state it. If you’re plumbing, but also do heating and air conditioning, list all of these services. You do want them to associate your name and logo with the services you provide, so don’t keep it a secret and don’t assume that the consumer will figure it out from your name and logo along, no matter how catchy the name.

Phone Numbers

It’s beyond me why companies slap up to half a dozen phone numbers on the side of a truck. I understand the desire to communicate that you’re “local” by getting phone numbers from local exchanges from around town. But it’s wasted on a truck. Of course you’re local. The truck’s there, isn’t it? If you didn’t service that area, the truck would be somewhere else. Adding the phone numbers only adds to the clutter. It’s not as though the consumer’s going to take out a pen in traffic, write down the phone number and call you simply because your truck looks cute. If you want to put a phone number on the truck, see if you can limit it to one main number (maybe a toll free number).

Bumper Stickers

Finally, never let your employees express themselves with bumper sticker art. It’s clutter. It’s usually in poor taste. It’s also likely to offend someone. Put a “save the whales” sticker on the truck and get the Rush Limbaugh fans mad. Put an NRA sticker on the truck and irritate the liberals. Put a sticker of the kid urinating on something or another and offend just about everyone. Put the sticker of one sports team on the truck and infuriate the fans of other teams. Put a sticker for a union and scare away the non-union customers. Put a sticker for a trade association and you’re only advertising to your competitors. It’s better to keep the stickers off.

If you clutter the vehicle with messages, text, logos, and phone numbers, who knows what will stand out to the consumer? Who knows what they’re going to remember? That is, if they remember anything.

Keep It Clean And Simple

Now, contrast the clutter on most service vehicles with the clean, simple, bold message that appears on FedEx trucks. Can you picture their trucks? If so, it proves the point. FedEx stands out, clearly stands out, generating impressions all over town. It doesn’t mean you should limit your message to your logo and nothing else, but it does show how a simple message that makes an impact is superior to a complex one that does not.

Simplify your truck. Large logos are better than small. Less clutter means fewer distractions. If the manufacturer wants to rent space on your vehicle let them reciprocate with their 18-wheelers, or pay a residual. It’s your truck, your company, and your message. Lose the platitudes, but make sure you let people know what business you’re in. Minimize the phone numbers and drop the bumper stickers.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (, an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at You can contact him directly at [email protected]. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at [email protected].