A Great White Shark cruises the streets of Charleston these days, but it is not out for blood. Instead, the predator wants eyeballs, as in sets of peepers watching it roll past on the outside of a CARTA bus.
The image is intended to convey the idea that the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority and its advertising on the outside of buses is a "Dominant Presence."
When the shark-on-a-bus passes by, there is a "wow" factor, said Jon Kane, CARTA bus advertising sales manager. That buzz has translated into significant new revenue for CARTA as it wraps buses in giant ads for fast food, hockey and tourist attractions, he said.
Images for the ads, which are in effect moving billboards, are made at a Tennessee company, Larger Than Life, and then wrapped around the buses.
The South Carolina Aquarium, Patriots Point and Tanger Outlets are among the CARTA customers who have climbed on a growing local bus wrap bandwagon.
The growth of wrap ads reflects a strategic change at CARTA, which ditched an ad contractor in favor of handling the business in-house. It hired Kane, former general manager of Adams Outdoor Advertising, as a full-time staffer in charge of revitalizing CARTA ad revenue.
The move has paid off as CARTA hauled in $540,000 in revenue from outdoor ads on buses during the first half of the fiscal year, which began in October. It expects to hit the $700,000 mark before year's end. That is nearly quadruple annual ad sales in years past, Kane said.
CARTA has used the new revenue to purchase two 40-foot commuter buses for the North Area Shuttle, said Executive Director Christine Wilkinson.
So far, CARTA has wrapped 20 of 100 buses in the ads. Previously, it sold one or two wrap ads in a year, Kane said.
The wraps have other benefits. They make the inside of a bus 10-to-15 degrees cooler, which cuts down on operating costs. Still, a passenger can see fine through the windows, he said.
Bus wraps have been around for a while in the largest cities, but are just now coming into their own in smaller locations, Kane said.
"It's really starting to gain some traction in the market," Kane said.
The South Carolina Stingrays tout their hockey team on a bus wrap.
"I think it's been great for our product," said Stingrays President Rob Concannon. "Not a week goes by when somebody says, 'Hey, I saw your bus.' It's creating a buzz," he said.