Small retailers inflate their appeal with balloons

Jaclyn Trop / The Detroit News

As the holidays draw closer, retailers are using levity to lure shoppers. Dancing inflatables, long used by chain retailers such as Blockbuster, Burger King and Best Buy to attract customers, are appealing more and more to small businesses in Metro Detroit that want to distinguish themselves in a tough retail market. As marketing budgets wane and many businesses reduce operating costs to stay afloat, animated balloons can grab attention at a fraction of the cost of a traditional advertisement.”It seems like people are out there actively searching for something else to do,” said Chris Austin, president and CEO of SkyDancers International, a Northridge, Calif.-based manufacturer of dancing inflatable balloons. With animated balloons, “the characters actually dance, move, undulate and wave. They grab your attention and force you to look at what’s behind them.”

Patrick Missud, owner of Entertainment Express, a limousine service on Telegraph Road in Dearborn Heights, said the inflatables draw eyeballs and foot traffic. Missud recently took down a Halloween display of dancing ghost balloons and will soon put up Christmas-themed inflatables.

Though Missud does not imprint the balloons with the name of his company, he said the animation helps draw attention to his building and distinguish it in a high-traffic area. “I have people call me and say, ‘Are you the place with that crazy thing in front of the building?’ ” said Missud. “We’re always doing something crazy and creative.”

Cheaper than other ads
Generally more than 20 feet tall, the dancing inflatables are made of lightweight material and powered by a fan attached to the base. The balloons, which come in an array of characters and colors, twist and bend as the wind flows through them.

Dancing inflatables can weigh two or three pounds, compared to more than 100 for a static “rooftop” balloon. And they cost “half or even less than newspapers, radio commercials or static balloons,” Austin said.

So far, inquiries to SkyDancers have increased between 30 and 40 percent over last year’s holiday season, Austin said.

One of SkyDancers’ most popular balloons — a 25- to 35-foot tube resembling a candy cane — costs $700 to buy or $100 per day to rent. In comparison, a static gorilla-shaped balloon favored by car dealerships can cost between $4,000 and $8,000 to purchase or $1,500 per week to rent.

Dynamic Displays in Windsor supplies dancing inflatables to Metro Detroit businesses including gas stations, coney islands and Tim Horton’s restaurants.

“When you throw something new into their day they’re not used to seeing, they’re going to remember you,” said President Steve Thomson. “That’s what you want.”

His clients report that foot traffic increases between 15 percent and 50 percent when they add a balloon to their property. The balloons are especially suited to businesses near high-traffic areas because their height often makes them visible from highways, he said.

“Obviously, motion is going to catch your eye more than anything static. It’s all about attention.” However, if too many balloons go up, the novelty fades, according to Wayne State University marketing professor Jeffrey Stoltman. “If more people did it, then it wouldn’t be as effective.”

Impact is quick
As with most forms of advertising, Stoltman said, the psychological impact of a dancing balloon takes only a couple of seconds for a passerby to acknowledge and process.

“They’re all intended to do the same thing — to break into people’s routines and divert their attention to this unusual thing and then decide whether to investigate,” he said.

“If they do, they’ve gone down the path. But if I’m committed to some other event, it’s nearly impossible the dancing dino will do it for me.”

You can reach Jaclyn Trop at (313) 222-2300 or

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