April 12th, 2013
Light pole, or street pole banners are an example of a new advertising platform that once initiated seemingly gained popularity overnight. Hosting flags and banners throughout a city, town, municipality or any common area, is a tradition as old as the flag itself. This type of promotion has always been a way to show pride for towns and cities. Towns took it to the next level by stringing a banner across main street to inform residents of upcoming events and celebrations however it wasn’t until around 1995 that the modern street pole banners were implemented.
The first modern vinyl street pole banners to make an impact were created for the Major League Baseball team: The Cleveland Indians. The Indians franchise hired a Cleveland based design firm to make banners which featured color photo images of their players to mark their first appearance in The World Series in 40 years (at that time). The team displayed these bills from their home field down through the city of Cleveland. The banners made such a big impact that they were a highly sought after commodity after they were taken down. Some of the light pole displays were auctioned off for charity and they can still be found on auction sites on the internet. These banner signs were not only a way marker for the sports world but for every township, city and hamlet from Rhode Island to Denmark.
What seems like a simple idea, hanging a sign off of a street pole, actually takes a good deal of technology to be implemented correctly. The modern banner we now see in every city center is ultimately the result of large format digital printers becoming more widely available. These printers would replace large format silk screening in many aspects of the advertising industry as they could offer full color prints in a much shorter time frame with no physical templates and a much lower cost. These new digital printers could also handle several different mediums on which to print such as fabric and more importantly for this article, vinyl.
Street pole banners are generally printed on two different types of materials: fabric and vinyl. Fabric banners are the more cost effective of the two main options. The fabric sign is just as visible as a vinyl sign and is often times coated in UV stabilizers to help retain the color and imaging and many have been proven effective displays for up to six years of continuous use. The fabric sign does have its limitations though. These signs are generally printed with vector based images which in this application do not allow for small images, thin lines and are limited on the number of colors which can be used. Fabric signs are highly effective for displays with silhouetted images, “clip art”, simple logos or just plain copy. The fabric banner can either be silk screened or it can have vinyl letters and images applied to the façade. If a simple message is what a town, business, or non-profit organization is looking to display than most often a fabric sign will be employed. For example the small town which is looking to have simple seasonal greetings in their downtown area would most likely utilize fabric banners with simple vector based images as opposed to vinyl signs with detailed color images.
The aforementioned banners which were used by the Cleveland Indians were printed on vinyl material which is the most commonly used material for light pole banners. The vinyl sign is highly sought after for it is a virtual blank canvas upon which anything can be printed on. A vinyl banner starts out as a plain white piece of material and can be digitally imaged thus resulting in the ability to host photo quality images and detailed gradient changes. There are very few limitations, if any, to what can be printed on a vinyl banner. These more versatile banners are a higher cost option than the fabric signs but they are a much more detailed style of visual marketing. There are no textual, color, image or opacity limitations to the digitally printed vinyl sign. Companies can virtually take their current print ad campaigns and transfer them to vinyl signs for hanging outside of stores, dealerships, malls, theaters and convention centers.
The first light post banners were designed with rigid metal poles extending off of the light posts. The idea behind the metal poles was to keep the banners secure and taut at all costs. High winds were always a concern with these types of standards and the first signs of this nature were outfitted with “wind slits” or flaps cut into the display to let winds pass through and not produce heavy drag on the sign and hardware. While this was the normal operating procedure for many years it left the displays with, well, holes in them. Though these slits allowed for the banners to withstand higher winds they were also weak points within the standard itself. The slits were often the first places on the signs to show signs of wear and ultimately be the first piece of the signage to rip since they flutter in the wind. This problem was first addressed by adding heavy duty metal springs to the metal support poles to eliminate resistance from heavy winds. While these springs were the first answer to eliminating the unsightly slits in the printed graphics there was another solution on the horizon. The most commonly used street pole banner holder on the market today is constructed from fiberglass and has been engineered to withstand winds of over 100 mph. These poles are mounted into steel brackets which then are mounted to the light post. These fiberglass and steel mounts are much more cost effective, lighter and highly durable. Not only can they withstand gale force winds but they can support a full grown man jumping on them while they are mounted and hosting a banner.
In 1999 three authors: William R. Gombeski, Jr., PhD, Peter L. Miller, MS, MBA and Melanie J. Levine, MBA penned a study entitled: Measuring the Effects of Street Pole Banners on Consumer Awareness and Preference. This study was published by the Journal of Hospital Marketing (vol. 13, Issue1, 1999). The authors found that the banners gave a “positive impression on consumer consciousness” and was the study on the whole was the first documentation of these banners used within the heath care industry. Some Thirteen years later we do not need to read any more studies to tell us that these outdoor signs are one of the most impactful advances in visual merchandising, all we need to do is drive downtown to be colorfully reminded how useful these banners are to the advertising world.