hall of fame
Dan Antonelli

Make the most of your service vehicles with better, more effective vehicle wraps.

We’ve been fortunate to have established a nice niche with the retro branding work we do for clients all over the country (and globe!). The work is fun, yet extremely challenging and labor intensive. It requires a lot of research. You really have to think outside the box and imagine you’re a designer from decades past, and consider how brands were done back then.

I often wonder if perhaps I was born a few decades too late—because I’m fascinated by the genre. To me, the design work is very well-suited to the design philosophy we espouse in our work.

Much of the branding work from the period, especially the ’40s through the early ’70s, had characteristics that made them usually ideal for outdoor use. Outdoor was typically an important medium for many of these businesses. Outside of superior distance legibility, many brands from the period used characters, mascots or other unique symbols to enhance memorability.

“Traditional values and old-fashioned customer service is what sets our business apart from our competitors,” says Joe Timo of Timo’s Air. “We found it extremely important to convey this message through our branding. In only two short years, our retro logo and vehicle advertising has made a profound impact in our local community. Prospective clients, who have yet to use our services, perceive our image as honest and trustworthy. For that reason alone, ‘going retro’ is one of the best decisions we ever made.”

These characteristics, ironically, are rarely employed on most vehicle wraps we see on the road today. This explains why most wraps on the road today are failures from an advertising standpoint, and sadly a wasted opportunity for the business deploying them. You can attribute this primarily to a lack of education and understanding about the actual medium. While the prerequisites for billboard painters and truck lettering artists from years past were countless years of study and apprenticeship, today’s prerequisites for wrap designers are simple: you need the cash to buy a large format digital printer – so often the designer is inexperienced in the study of effective advertising in an outdoor realm.

Sadly, most small businesses do not know enough about what to look for when choosing a company to design their wrap. Many get caught up in the “look cool” factor of another vehicle they’ve seen—even if they can’t name the business or brand represented on the wrap.  Fortunately, many businesses, after having wasted their money on an effective wrap design, have smartened up. We’re having many people seek us out specifically because our philosophy is different. And the more
different it is, the more it stands out.

What would this truck look like if
it were done 75 years ago?

Designing a proper retro-themed layout for a truck has to begin with a strong brand. For us, that’s the starting point. And usually, we know in advance when we’re designing the branding that it’s also going to be used on a vehicle, so we’re planning for it. Plan on doing a lot of study of the fonts, color schemes and graphic styles characteristic of the era you’re simulating. We use a lot of sources to study up on this era.

Employing the fundamentals

What makes these wraps effective is their ability to stand out among the clutter people are accustomed to seeing. As we design, we’re always considering what message we are trying to communicate to the audience, and how we can make that message easy to understand, and more importantly, easy to remember. So we use bold lettering and memorable characters, and we design an image that connects with them on an emotional level.

These retro images harken back to a time when there was a more positive image of a business owner and the work they did. There was more trust in the contractor. So we’re simply designing an image that takes them back to a different, much simpler time. And people do find that to be memorable, because it’s something they haven’t seen predominantly used for a small business brand
for quite a while.

Finally, this branding approach helps instill confidence with the target audience simply because the business looks like it has been in business a while. Sometimes this is ironic for me, because sometimes the business is brand new or only a few years old. Yet, by the look of the graphics, it seems like they’ve been around forever.

Characters and mascots

Many product advertisements from years past employed cute characters and mascots designed to associate their product with a memorable image. We’ve definitely taken a cue from this approach. We design many branding schemes around that cute character. When used on vehicles, we often make the character the most dominant element or the “supergraphic.” These characters are hard to ignore. Because they aren’t cluttered with confusing backgrounds and assorted Photoshop fills, they stand out and make a big impact.

An effective truck wrap: The ‘Best Investment Ever’

“It is incredible how much this artwork has changed my business,” says owner Nate Anderson from The Neighborhood Electrician. “I get one or two calls a week just from driving around in my van. No other advertising has had a better return on investment. It’s the best investment I have ever made in my business.”

The clients who have had their vehicles done using this approach have reported spectacular
results. Some of them have had wraps for years prior with marginal results, and can’t believe the difference. Whether it’s people stopping them at traffic lights, asking for a card, or the amount of
phone calls they are getting, all agree that it was the best investment they’ve ever made.

This style really isn’t right for every business, but it definitely does work well for service businesses like electricians, contractors, HVAC companies. And it can easily be overdone—so it’s important to not throw every retro trick in the book at each design.

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