The 20-foot-high machine looks and performs like a color printer for a home PC. But this gigantic machine can turn an ordinary magazine ad into a billboard roughly the size of a volleyball court in 2.5 hours.
This is Metromedia Technologies Inc., or MMT, a global printer of outdoor advertising and signs that is attracting new interest in the ubiquitous billboard. Instead of hand painting or lithography, the Hollywood, Calif., company works with the same type of acrylic paint used on car bodies to digitally 'paint' images of photograph quality onto treated vinyl sheets. The system ensures consistent high quality, and dramatically reduces the 60-day lead time typical with hand-painted billboards.
MMT has three U.S. facilities - in Hollywood; Wooster, Ohio; and Miami - as well as plants in the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia. It can quickly churn out localized billboards for national or international campaigns. It can do the same for large murals for buildings and fleet graphics for the sides of big over-the-road commercial trucks.
'If Mitsubishi has a dealer campaign and the copy had to change for Detroit or San Francisco or Seattle, MMT can print a different line like 'Wake Up and Drive Minneapolis' for each of those cities,' says Ron Fagan, marketing director of MMT until his retirement last December.
MMT introduced digital painting to the outdoor industry more than a decade ago. But the technology is just now beginning to have an impact on automotive advertising. MMT founder John Kluge, who also founded what is now the Fox TV network, championed the concept as a way to speed billboard production. He figured faster turnaround would help revive interest in outdoor advertising by such industries as automotive and high fashion.
It has taken a while. One reason: Tobacco companies have used a big percentage of available billboards. That is changing now that the tobacco industry has agreed to eliminate outdoor advertising by April.
So after two years of declining automotive sales for the outdoor advertising market, it looks like a turnaround is under way.
Future looks bright
'Out-of-home will grow' for automakers, says David Martin, CEO of PentaCom, the agency that does the media buying for all DaimlerChrysler Corp. automotive brands except Mercedes. 'We had two problems: tobacco and alcohol,' Martin says. 'But now many of those boards are freeing up.'
As a signal to that changing trend, in 1998 Ford Motor Co. signed a multiyear deal worth more than $50 million to place outdoor ads in at least 20 markets, a move unusual in the auto industry.
Last year, automotive was MMT's second-largest sales category, trailing tobacco; Fagan thinks autos could be No. 1 this year.
MMT's automotive client list now includes every automaker in the United States and most overseas manufacturers.