COLUMBIA — The large black truck that drives around Columbia displaying rotating advertisements is raising the hackles of some City Council members, and they're interested in revising the city's sign ordinance to ban the practice.
One problem, though, is that the city allows advertising on its public transit buses, and lots of businesses feature commercial signs on their vehicles.
City Manager Bill Watkins said at the council's Monday meeting that mobile advertising trucks might violate the sign ordinance, but so, too, might ads on buses and other vehicles.
“Where do you draw the line?” Watkins asked.
Complaints about the truck, which is owned and operated by Tiger Mobile Advertising, came from First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.
But Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said Monday that he worries about the fact that the city just signed a $200,000 contract for advertising on city buses. It might not be appropriate, he said, to tell a private company that it can't advertise on a rolling vehicle.
The ad truck differs from city buses and company vehicles, Hoppe argued.
“It was driven around to attract attention,” Hoppe said. “It's basically a mobile scrolling billboard with no other purpose than to be a mobile scrolling billboard.”
Tiger Mobile Advertising owner Collin Bartels declined to comment but said he's been in contact with the city about the council members' complaints. Tiger Mobile's website says the company advertises in a way that gets around restrictions in the sign ordinance.
“With new restrictions on static billboards, mobile billboards are today’s answer to expand the billboard market,” it states.
Tiger Mobile also promotes its service as extremely effective.
“Our AD TRUCK uses patented scrolling mobile billboard technology to offer unique ad repetition and ad frequency that has a proven 97 percent recall rate among advertisers,” according to the company's website.
The company drives the truck 12 hours a day on weekdays, showing each ad more than 600 times per day. It costs a business $650 per month to advertise on the truck.
Andy Russell, owner of Mr. Goodcents, said advertising on the truck is boosting business at his new store.
“I figured that was the best way to advertise. ... It was the biggest bang for my buck,” Russell said. “This billboard drives by you.”
Russell said that he has advertised with Tiger Mobile since his store opened Sept. 1. He said customers have mentioned the truck-borne ad.
Sturtz, however, dislikes mobile advertising trucks. “They’ve been described as a road spam, and I think that’s very accurate,” he said in an interview.
Sturtz said he understands that lots of vehicles display ads, but he agreed with Hoppe that the trucks are different.
“A delivery truck that just happens to be wrapped in advertisement, I don’t feel, has the quite same insidious quality about it,” he said.
Sturtz said that when he looks out the window of his downtown office, he sees the Tiger Mobile truck "every five minutes."
Sturtz is calling for a “mobile advertisement” ban that would exclude vehicles such as buses. Several cities — including Austin, Texas, and Chicago, New York and Boston — ban mobile advertising.
Austin's ordinance defines a mobile billboard as “a sign installed or displayed on a vehicle operating in the public right-of-way for the purpose of advertising a business or entity that is unrelated to the owner of the vehicle’s primary business.”
Austin City Planner Clara Hilling said the ban there passed in June 2008. “They allowed the existing mobile billboard companies to stay until June 2010, and no new ones could come in.”
Hilling also said that the ordinance wasn't controversial and that it affected only one truck.
The Columbia council referred the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.