Fan fare

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am

Doing business without advertising is like winking at someone in the dark. Unless that business is Google, it may struggle without a publicity campaign - and the more unusual the better.

Few have a bigger wow factor than the eco-friendly advertising platform called 'windvertising'.

Dreamt up by United States-based perpetual-energy solutions provider WePower, the term refers to displaying advertisements on turbine blades at wind farms.

As the blades spin, the images come to life and seem to move, producing an animated ad, or so the theory goes.

WePower claims that, if the half a million or so billboards along US highways used its media platform, at an average wind speed of about 16km/h, the billboards would generate about 17 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. This could power some 1.5 million homes and save about 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Consumers jaded by remorseless exposure to online banner ads and billboards may well be bewitched by the engagingly green commercials.

California State University marketing professor Vassilis Dalakas has mixed feelings about the idea. 'From a marketing standpoint, any new way of advertising is going to be effective in getting consumer attention - at least in the beginning.'

Once the novelty wears off, viewers may tune it out, as they do traditional advertising, says Dalakas. The thing that prompts consumers to buy is what the message says, not the medium through which it is presented, he adds.

Innovation analyst and inventor Michael Plishka thinks a technical obstacle could prevent windvertising from working at all. He says animated ads are only effective if they spin so fast our brains are tricked into believing there's a moving image. Wind speeds at most wind farms lack the power to create an illusion of a legible moving image. Turbines built by roads might have even less wind to play with. For efficiency or design reasons, most turbines are not designed to spin that fast.

The answer might be to embed the blades with computer-controlled LED lights that show different messages depending on rotation speed, suggests Plishka.

That tack might work, assuming windvertising overcomes aesthetic objections. For one commenter in an online thread, windvertising brings to mind a science-fiction story about turning the moon into a giant billboard. Another writes: 'Do we really need to see advertisements on wind turbines? They've trashed every other line of sight from urinal cakes to sky banners, now they want to slap ads on wind turbines?'

Even if it fails to take off, wind power could be tapped to fuel conventional billboards.

A prototype clean energy billboard propelled by WePower turbines now occupies a space in New York's Times Square. A plug for office automation firm Ricoh started spinning and heads turning this month.