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Rules and Regulations for Inflatable Advertising

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

What Is Inflatable Advertising?

Inflatable advertising ranges from the flapping and fan inflated caricatures commonly seen at used car lots to LED advertising tubes put up to promote an activity without needing to meet permanent sign rules. Inflatable advertising is not always temporary, like the giant inflatable creatures sometimes used to promote businesses or sports venues.

Inflatable advertising, whether in the form of giant gorillas on top of a car dealership or the dancing tube at sidewalk level, is subject to regulation, rules and outright bans in some jurisdictions.

Inflatable signs do not have to meet the same standards as bounce houses.

Inflatable signs do not have to meet the same standards as bounce houses.

Inflatable signs are popular because they are eye-catching. Inflatables are affordable mobile sign, easily moved as required or put in storage when no longer used. They may be rented for an annual sale or purchased by a company that plans on using it often.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 requires cities to maintain control over road-side billboards along highways or risk losing part of their federal highway traffic funds. Because of this, inflatable signs are popular for businesses like car dealerships that cannot put up additional permanent signs.

Why Is Inflatable Advertising Regulated?

Cities regulate flags, streamers and balloons used in advertising because they may distract motorists whose attention they are designed to catch. Their location is regulated so that the inflatable advertising doesn’t impair driver visibility around corners and driveways or impede traffic flow. However, the safety concerns behind these regulations may be blown out of proportion.

An AAA Foundation for Traffic Study done in 2001 found that billboards were not significant distractions to drivers. Conversely, moving billboards had far greater impact on drivers than static ones, with drivers remembering something from a moving billboard four times as often as they could from a static one. This means that inflatable moving billboards do a better job of catching the passerby’s eye but may not actually increase the odds of accidents.

Inflatable signs are subject to setbacks from the road due to fears they will distract drivers.

Inflatable signs are subject to setbacks from the road due to fears they will distract drivers.

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What Regulations Apply to Inflatable Advertising?

Inflatable advertising often fall under the ordinances that regulate large helium balloons and hot air balloons when they are used as advertisements. Inflatable advertisements are subject to height, width and depth limits. Floating advertisements face even greater restrictions. A general guideline for inflatable advertisements is that they must have a tether equal to or shorter than the distance of the anchor point to the owner’s property line. This rule means that the inflatable will remain on the owner’s property if it deflates.

The locations of inflatable advertising are highly regulated. While you can easily get a permit to place an inflatable advertising tube on a corner of your lot, it may not be allowed near the street or sidewalk where it could interfere with traffic, either human or vehicular. Inflatable advertising is often banned near power lines or anything that could set it on fire.

Inflatable advertising is routinely subject to limits on their timing, such as limiting how late an LED advertising tube’s lights can be lit or requiring the noisy flapping tube advertising to be turned off between 10 PM and 6 AM so that it does not become a nuisance to neighbors trying to sleep.

The content of inflatable advertising’s message may be regulated. For example, many municipalities state that no signs for commercial advertising or political purposes can be displayed near public parks. However, the commercial content on the sign is generally treated the same as the content on a flag or sign.

Do You Need a Permit for Your Inflatable Advertising?

You will probably be required to get a sign permit to put up inflatable advertising, whether it is on your roof, sidewalk, front lot or patio.

Always check with your city or county's ordinances before installing inflatable advertising. What is legal in a state may still be banned locally. Some towns and cities have banned them outright as nuisances, while others place restrictions on when they can operate or where they can be placed. Cities like Houston, Texas banned inflatable advertising in 2008 as part of its beautification effort. Katy and Thomball, Texas and Columbia, South Carolina have also outlawed inflatable advertising.

Some municipalities have outlawed giant inflatables but permit smaller ones, so check your local ordinances before getting one. The variety in local ordinances is so bad that a number of firms that rent inflatables have policies that if they set it up and it turns out not to be allowed, you can get a partial refund.

Setting up an inflatable sign in jurisdictions where they are allowed but without getting a permit results in a fine. Most cities permit inflatable advertising but have restrictions, such as the content of the sign, the size of the sign or limits on how long it can be used. Cities that permit inflatable advertising may prohibit an LED inflatable tube as an illuminated sign, require it to be set farther back from the road or limit its brightness.

Rules regarding inflatable advertising do not generally apply to inflatable figures used on residential properties, such as the ubiquitous inflated snowmen and Santas that appear at Christmas and giant pumpkins that grace lawns around Halloween. Thus, a decorative inflatable isn’t going to require a permit unless duly large or until someone puts a commercial ad on the side of it.

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