“Rolling billboards” are a Florida fleet’s innovative solution.
By Jessica Shrout


How much time do you spend washing your trucks? If your answer is “too much,” you are in good company. There is a need to keeps fleets clean and presentable. After all, the look of a truck communicates your brand and continues to sell your services even after the truck ends its route, but washing trucks can seriously eat into your operations time. If you choose not to wash your trucks regularly, you may see corrosion issues that impact the performance of your trucks and shorten their serviceable lifespan. Some haulers wisely opt for decorative vinyl graphics to both promote their business or city’s public works and to protect the truck from damage.

Jonathan Williamson, Solid Waste Division Supervisor for the City of Sarasota, Florida, dealt with the dirty truck issue on a regular basis. “We did have some decals on our trucks – safety decals and the city’s emblem – but they always looked dirty within a month or two. The wear and tear of garbage collection starts to stain them right away.”

The City of Sarasota needed to find an alternative solution to protect the truck cabs and canopies from damage and reduce the number of hours spent cleaning their trucks. With their regular truck decals, the service team was spending at least 30 minutes to an hour scrubbing each truck as thoroughly as possible after every shift in what Williamson calls “a never-ending battle.” Even with this diligence, the trucks constantly looked stained and dirty – not the image the City of Sarasota wanted to promote for itself.

On top of these operational challenges, the city also wanted to ensure the impression its fleet makes upon residents and visitors to Sarasota matched their vision to “be a world-class community and treasured destination, with enduring natural beauty, charm, and diversity.” The idea was hatched to leverage their next purchase of garbage trucks as “rolling billboards” featuring images that depict the city’s natural treasures. But how can you promote beauty and charm with a garbage truck that will be stained a month or two after it goes into a service? According to Williamson, you find a better graphics solution that keeps trucks looking like new for years.

While leafing through some industry news, the Sarasota team read about a product called BrandArmor™ – a line of durable, cleanable vehicle decals that promise to hold up to severe-duty jobs like garbage collection. The brand asserts that traditional vinyl graphics normally used to wrap fleet vehicles are actually too delicate to use in this application. The FAQ Vehicle Care Guide published by 3M (a manufacturer of commonly available vehicle wraps) states that hand washing is the preferred cleaning method and lists bug splatter, bird droppings, and tree sap as “difficult contaminants”. It also recommends avoiding prolonged sun exposure and dew or rain, as they may contain acidic pollutants which will degrade the product. This suggested care is impractical for most garbage trucks.

Traditional vinyl graphics tend to fail because many chemicals and environmental pollutants bond with the plasticizers in the PVC. This causes staining, fading, or even complete failure of the decal which 3M acknowledges could stain your underlying paint. To avoid these issues, BrandArmor uses a patent-pending polymer which coats the graphic decals with a zero PVC polymer surface that makes them inert and able to repel most chemicals. The composition of BrandArmor also blocks the migration of the plasticizers to the surface of the decals, which causes traditional decals to look faded or degraded over time.

Williamson reached out to BrandArmor to discuss the application of their products to his refuse fleet. Jonathan Baltic, Senior Vice President at BrandArmor, recounts this conversation, “When Sarasota decided they were looking to promote their city using the refuse fleet as billboards, we were their natural choice. Sarasota knew that it was important that these images looked clean, bright, and shiny on Day One but also Day 1,800 to properly promote the city. BrandArmor is the only product on the market that guarantees and insures it.”

It is important to note that BrandArmor expects a serviceable life of seven to ten years and offers a five-year 100% replacement limited warranty on their graphics – which asserts that dirt, fuel, acid rain, carbon exhaust, and even graffiti will be able to be cleaned off the surface of the decal.

How much does a billboard cost in your city? The typical rate is anywhere from $2,500 to $14,000 per billboard per month depending on the location. These costs can add up fast – but if you apply your branding or special messaging to a fleet of trucks in the form of decals, then you have multiple “billboards” that move around the city and last for a decade. Not only does the initial investment pay for itself in months (BrandArmor is comparable in cost to traditional vinyl vehicle wrap), but the CPM or cost per mille (cost per 1,000 impressions: a standard used to measure marketing campaigns) makes the concept of truck decals the most cost-effective way to communicate your message. It also is a great way for businesses to promote charitable causes.

The Sarasota team is banking on that math. They selected a set of images they felt will promote their city in a positive way, worked with BrandArmor to choose the right products for their trucks, and had them installed on their entire fleet of 21 trucks including six front-end loading trucks and 15 side-loading trucks. Williamson and his team will be tracking the effects these nicer, cleaner trucks have on the city and the reduction of time and costs associated with keeping the trucks clean utilizing the BrandArmor truck decals.

In the case of Sarasota their 21 trucks means 42 billboard faces promoting the city. At even the lowest number of $2,500 each that equates to $105,000 per month in advertising benefit or $8,820,000 over a seven-year period, all for an investment of about $60,000.

Author’s note: A follow-up on the City of Sarasota’s fleet is expected to be available in late 2019.

Jessica Shrout is the owner of Circle Three Branding—a marketing agency devoted to the waste industry.