AirSign Combines Social Media With Skywriting

Heads up, hashtag lovers

The next big platform for social media advertising could be up—way up—if skywriting firm AirSign has anything to say about it. The Gainesville, Fla.-based firm is one of the top providers of aerial advertising in the United States, according to its website, and rather than stick with traditional campaigns, it is teaming up with clients such as USA Network to bring the sky into cyberspace.

The company was founded by Patrick Walsh, a flight instructor and entrepreneur. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek described his tactics as turning smartphone-wielding pedestrians into social media shills. The trick is to get them taking photos of the skywriting campaigns and sharing them on social platforms such as Twitter.

And it’s working.

USA Network got the people of San Diego talking about #DigDeeper, promoting a new thriller premiering on the network in the fall called Dig. The campaign featured a scavenger hunt during Comic Con, which took place in the city at the end of July. Fans were invited to look for clues around the Gaslamp district, noted The Hollywood Reporter, with more than 40 of them hidden around the area, including wall stencils, retail shops and, of course, the skywriting.

The hashtag saw a massive spike during the Comic Con event, and AirSign played a significant part of that.

“There’s never been a way to supercharge a social media campaign like this,” Walsh told Businessweek. "It’s a great way to stand out above all of the clutter and competition."

The company employs 60 pilots and, noted Small Business Trends, they use an innovative, collaborative approach to create the messages. Five planes fly in formation and use a computer to control how often each one creates a puff of smoke. By working together, the planes can create messages up to 1,500 feet high, which is large enough to be seen as far as 15 miles away.

Other clients include Google, Uber and Ford Motor Co., and AirSign has even worked with artists to create thought-provoking temporary installations such as Pi in the Sky, which used another hashtag—#piinthesky—and included the first 314 digits of Pi above Manhattan, according to The New York Post. The paper went on to note that the event garnered thousands of social media shares and mentions.

In addition to skywriting, the company also offers services such as towing banners into the sky with both planes and helicopters, and advertising on the side of blimps. While Walsh doesn’t disclose what any given client paid for a campaign, he told Businessweek that one with around 20 messages, such as the one done for Dig, would cost around $25,000. AirSign is on track to post earnings of $8 million for 2014.

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