|The following article is by Franke Rolphe, founder of OutdoorBillboardUniversity.com Frank became the largest private owner of billboards in Dallas/Ft. Worth, one sign at a time. Read full June Newsletter here|
If I was on a game show and had to guess which billboard makes the most money to the investor, I would always guess the wallscape. Why is that? Because wallscapes couple large size and hot location with no structural cost – a potent combination.
Among the first billboards ever created were wallscapes. The reason was simple: back then, nobody knew how to hold up a billboard since there was little metal and few telephone poles around. The early signs were simply wallpaper over brick or wood walls, installed by “bill posters”. This was standard fare in the 1800s. As you can see in the photo above, wallscapes were extremely common in early America, from the 1800s to the 1920s.
Some of the highest rents in the U.S.
Wallscapes, based on location, command some of the highest rents in the U.S. There are units on Hollywood Blvd., for example, that rent for $50,000 per month to movie studios promoting various actors and pictures for the Academy Awards to movie-studio executives driving to work. The majority of the most expensive billboards in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and other urban markets, are wallscapes. One reason is their sheer size, some wallscapes cover the entire side of buildings. The other reason is that they sometimes go where no other billboard can – in areas so dense that there is no room to install any poles to erect normal billboards.
The wall does all the hard work
The expense of building a billboard is 99% the mechanical ability to hold a giant surface up in the air with the force of wind pushing on it. Since the wallscape’s vinyl gets to “piggyback” off the structurally strong wall of the building, it only has to worry about sticking to the wall – not to hold it up. If you had to build a free-standing structure to hold up some of the large wallscapes out there – up to 100’ by 100’ and larger – it would cost maybe $200,000+ just to build the support structure. So wallscapes are basically a way to “cheat” the system by attaching an ad to an existing support column.
No size limitation
Wallscapes are some of the largest billboard advertisements in the world. Since wind load and collapse are of no concern, the only limitation, in many areas, is the size of the wall. It is not uncommon to find wallscapes that are 50’ x 100’ – that’s almost ten times the size of normal signs. There are wallscapes that can be seen from airplanes. Since advertisers love sensational sizes and memorable impressions, that’s part of what makes wallscapes so valuable.
But wait – don’t wallscapes have to meet the maximum size regulations, just like any other billboard?
That’s a question that I hear all the time. You would think that would be the case, except for a couple loopholes that sign owners take advantage. First is the fact that, in most states, if you can get 660’ from the right-of-way of the highway, there are no size or spacing requirements under the Federal Highway Beautification Act of the 1960’s. Since these walls are so large, a 660’ setback is not a big deal. The other loophole is that many cities actually waive these requirements on wallscapes, as they feel that these type of advertisements actually revitalize blighted areas and put something attractive on otherwise bland and unattractive walls.
Vinyl made it all possible
It’s important to note that the real story behind the profitability of wallscapes is the invention of printing ads on vinyl. Prior to that, these advertisements all had to be hand-painted, which was incredibly expensive. It could cost up to $50,000 to hand-paint a single wallscape, which now might cost $5,000 to print and hang a vinyl. So really, the profitability of wallscapes was one of the biggest winners by the change from hand-painting billboards to printing on vinyl. In some cases, in fact, vinyl is what made some wallscapes possible, especially in those cases in which the vinyl goes over windows while offering the occupants to see out.
Wallscapes are amazingly profitable. Most people forget about these sign types when they were building their portfolios. Don’t forget about wallscapes when you are out and about. When it comes to making money in the billboard business, they are often the superstars.