Five Rules for Effective Vehicle Wraps

5 rules for effective vehicle wraps
These guidelines will help you deliver high impact vehicle wraps
By Dan Antonelli, President and Creative Director, Graphic D-Signs, Inc. and
Last month Bob Behounek had an excellent article on building more effective layouts for signs. He had three examples of the same sign, but made simpler with each revision until it was reduced to a more basic, and pure, layout. His points about why sign painters from a generation ago understood how to make effective layouts were spot on. In those days, speed certainly was an issue and the more bells and whistles added to a sign resulted in increased production times. Budget often dictated that they make the most effective use of their time to deliver the most impactful message. They couldn’t simply click a button to make a drop shadow, outline a letter or add a bevel. If they wanted one, it could mean a few hours of labor, which they likely didn’t have in the budget. Layouts for signs present many of the same challenges as vehicle wraps. Distance legibility is, of course, a primary concern. You have very limited time to capture the viewer’s attention, then have that brand and message be understood and remembered.If you examined most wraps on the road today, you’d think this concept was really hard to pull off, and that it must be really hard to design an effective wrap. It’s really not, once you understand the fundamentals of what it takes to build a good wrap.
Rule #1: Start with a great brand
One reason why so many wraps fail from a marketing perspective is due to the fact that the business has a poor brand identity and logo. The brand should always be the primary message for a vehicle wrap, unless you have national brand recognition. But for small businesses trying to make an impact in their community, the message is always about the brand. Starting with a poor brand means you’ve already failed before you’ve begun. The business owner has not only wasted their money on a wrap, but they’ve missed a huge marketing opportunity. We generally only do wrap design for clients whose brands we’ve first created, because the others who come to us with an existing brand often have a terrible one. And if they won’t change it, we won’t design it. And what’s surprising is that we’re usually the first ones to tell them that. I guess the other sign companies never mention that, because they don’t want to lose the job. I guess I can understand that, but a surprising number of clients really appreciate the candor. They appreciate the fact that we only have their best interest in mind. It’s too much money to play with, and I’m certainly not going to be responsible for wasting it by trying to work with a brand that has no business being implemented on a wrap. The brand is the message, period.
Rule #2: Don’t use photos
I’ve had the discussion often with other sign makers, and some may not agree on this point, but you won’t find many effective wraps that use a photo of any type. And I’d argue that any wrap that uses a photo could have been more effectively done without one. Photos are usually a crutch for a poor brand. The photo is not a brand identity: it doesn’t connect me with the business name. Maybe it connects me with what they do, but that’s really the point of a good brand.Take the example of the HVAC company with a big picture of an air conditioner. Great, now I know you do air conditioning. But who are you? I don’t know, because I only had 2.5 seconds to view the message. Or the contractor and the picture of a house. Great—a house. But are you a siding company, a roofing company, a window installer, power washer, a landscaper or an electrician? I have no idea because the photo is the dominant element. After my 2.5 seconds are up, your message is lost amidst all the other things trying to grab my attention. Perhaps on box trucks or trailers, you can use a photo, but I’d still argue a more powerful brand integration would be more effective. National chains have an easier time using photography, because, once again, their brand is already known, and the message need not be 100% focused on who or what the brand is.
Rule #3: Limit your copy
There are only three or four things a good wrap needs: a strong brand implementation and perhaps tagline messaging, a web address and maybe a phone number. Bullet lists that are more like shopping lists have no place ona vehicle. This isn’t the Yellow Pages. Would you rather list 10 things and have none remembered or even be able to be read, or maybe one or two that might be remembered?If this truck were a billboard, how much copy do you think would be on it? Billboards have the exact same challenges as vehicle advertising. If you prioritize your copy, it will be more effective. In general, the hierarchy should always be: Brand, Tagline, Web and/or Phone.
Rule #4: Design to stand out, not fit in
This isn’t the part where many might say diamond plate, carbon fiber, tribal flames will make that truck wrap stand out. Quite the contrary. By eliminating all those frills, noisy backgrounds, photos, bevels and glows, you’ll be on your way to designing a wrap that eally stands out. The wrap market is so littered with visual noise, that when you see something that’s impactful, which you can read and is actually memorable, it can’t help but stand out among the visual clutter that viewers are now so accustomed to seeing. That’s what’s so ironic to me. People think our designs are so innovative, simply because they’re unlike what everyone else seems to be doing—therefore, they can’t help but stand out.
Rule #5: Simple and obvious is good
If the viewer needs to work too hard to figure out the primary brand messaging, it’s an opportunity lost. The medium isn’t the same as print design, where the viewer can stop, absorb the advertising and try to understand the message. Consider that one primary take-away you’re hoping to leave with the viewer. What is it? Does the wrap effectively communicate it? Is it lost in the imagery? Here’s an example of why simple is good. A local butcher shop recently had their brand new truck wrapped, and proudly parked the truck in front of the store. I drove by the truck every day for a week before I could actually discern what the large photo on the side of the truck was. It was a piece of rare steak sliced open with some lettuce next to it. It literally took me five days to get that part. Then I spent the next week of commuting, trying to find out what the actual message was. So after about two weeks, I got the message. Do you think the average person is as obsessed with studying wraps as I am? Buried in the photo amidst a Photoshop glow was Free Delivery. Great! I can get steak delivered. Oh, unfortunately I don’t know the name of the butcher shop, for that also is buried on top of the photo with yet another Photoshop glow, which was apparently supposed to make this legible. And the company logo? That apparently was reserved for the rear of the truck, which I never see because the truck is always parked in same direction, and I don’t pass by the same way on the way home. Sadly, when I did finally see the logo, it was poor, and I couldn’t read that, either. Failure? Wasted opportunity? You bet. Tragically, the owner doesn’t know, and seemingly, neither did the wrap company. It’s yet another wrap design that simply blends in and is ignored by the viewer.