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Commercial Ballooning

How To Beat The Competition
With A Bunch Of Hot Air

Corporate balloons

Brought to you by Jim Whitesell, Corporate Balloon Pilot

Hot air balloons are used to promote and advertise thousands of products and services. This is where you'll find out why these huge, colorful billboards are so successful as a marketing tool, and how a hot air balloon marketing program can be implemented.



A hot air balloon creates excitement that attracts and holds attention. More than six million spectators annually attend hundreds of balloon events nationwide, more than any other outdoor summer activity, including baseball games and car races. In addition to the spectators attending balloon events, the balloon carries your message over the surrounding populace, increasing the exposure to millions more - a gigantic, colorful, living, moving billboard.

The advantage to the advertiser is that these events become their private marketing audience. If wanted, the balloon can also make impact appearances at other sporting events as well, taking advantage of these assemblies when they consist of the advertiser's target market.

A balloon campaign is also easily managed. Our company provides professional management and operations support, allowing you to get involved as little or as much as you want.

Hot air balloons are also very cost effective. Even more important, hot air balloons have real impact that conventional advertising methods often lack. It is not surprising that advertising balloons are being used by Disney, Pepsi, Rayovac, CPI photofinish, Ball Park Franks, Jack in the Box and Pontiac in corporate marketing programs. Hundreds of local businesses also use hot air balloons to achieve a wide variety of marketing goals.

It's easy to represent a product with a dramatic special shape balloon. The advent of computer aided design has made complex special shapes an affordable reality. For only the initial cost of design and manufacture, and virtually no increase in operating expenses, a company can have a one-of-a-kind balloon that will maximize their marketing efforts.

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Uses For a Corporate Balloon

The uses for a corporate balloon are nearly unlimited. A corporate balloon can be an excellent addition to existing marketing efforts, and will set the company apart as a leader. Some ideas for using a corporate balloon follow:

Special Events

The balloon can appear at major events such as auto races, airshows, sporting events, etc. By choosing an event who's demographics match that of your target audience, you can achieve major exposure since the balloon will stand out from the activities the spectators are expecting to see.

The author has flown and tethered corporate balloons at scores of events including Super Bowl, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Daytona 500, Indy 500, Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, L.A. Marathon, etc.

Community Involvement

Most special events benefit charities, and by participating with the balloon, the sponsor company can position itself as a supporter of each community where the balloon appears. While in a local community, the balloon team can provide demonstrations at children's hospitals or schools - which are prime media bait!

Media Coverage

A truly professional management company understands that the coverage the balloon receives is of primary importance to the sponsor. The management company and balloon team should work closely with the media by providing press kits, rides and interviews whenever possible.

The author's past efforts in this regard have resulted in many inches of prime coverage in newspapers, often accompanied by full color photos. He has also delivered many hours annually of local and national coverage on television and radio.

Industry Events

By flying or tethering the balloon at trade shows, conventions, and other industry events, the sponsor can receive unsurpassed attention.

Very few people can ignore the sight of a ten-story tall balloon!

As a Sales Tool

Offering rides in the corporate balloon to key customers can be very good business. The operator of a balloon for a major telecommunications firm reports that the company has closed many major sales as a direct result of these rides, simply because the buyers were shown the attention.

Anyone can buy a client's dinner, but a balloon ride is a unique incentive!

Targeted Marketing

The nature of the balloon allows the sponsor to reach distinct markets while providing major visibility. This market saturation would be extremely difficult for a competitor to surpass.

Although difficult to determine, the DAR (day after recall) of a balloon can be assumed to be much greater than other forms of outdoor media.

When the media is the target, corporate balloons get worldwide coverage at the KODAK ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA- in addition to the 1.5 million spectators during this nine day event in 1996, there were over 5,000 registered media representatives from 50 countries.

To find out more about the KAIBF, see their WWW home page.


Spectator giveaways can include photos, stickers, tee shirts, caps and balloon pins. These can be carried by the balloon team to be distributed to the public.

It's obvious a balloon marketing program can be utilized in many ways. It can become one of the most powerful and flexible marketing tools by virtue of its impact and adaptability.

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Technical Details

Flight Characteristics

Balloons fly in calm to light winds, generally not more than 10 miles per hour. Because of this, flights are scheduled for the period 2-3 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset, when the winds are calmest.

Morning flights coincide nicely with morning drive time most of the year. Passenger rides are usually not begun in winds stronger than 6-8 mph. Tethers are ideal in calm winds but can be accomplished in winds up to 10 mph.

Choosing a Pilot

Choosing a pilot for a corporate balloon can be the single most important factor which will affect the outcome of the marketing program. Many pilots dream of being able to find a sponsor to pay for their hobby, but few realize that an incredible amount of work and experience is required to develop a successful marketing campaign.

Corporate ballooning requires an outstanding pilot to insure its success. The pilot must be able to work well with people, work under pressure, and needs to recognize opportunities as they present themselves. Here are some factors when choosing your pilot:

Flight Experience
To best utilize a corporate balloon, you'll want a pilot who has a lot of experience flying balloons in very congested areas. Sport pilots prefer to fly over open country, far away from major population centers. A corporate pilot will readily fly over major metropolitan areas and work with the FAA to make sure the flights can be accomplished safely and legally.

Marketing Experience
A professional corporate balloon pilot realizes that the primary goal is to promote the sponsor.

There are many marketing opportunities that appear while a balloon team is on the road. The professional pilot will recognize these opportunities and be flexible enough to do whatever is necessary to provide maximum exposure for the sponsor.

The corporate balloon pilot is a goodwill ambassador for the sponsor; he will recognize that he is representing the company at all times.

Management Experience
When choosing a corporate pilot, the sponsor will be best served by an individual with plenty of management experience. While on the road, the pilot will be directing the rest of the balloon team (crew chief and volunteer crew), media, and will be dealing with the sponsor's clients and associates. The pilot will also be solely responsible for all paperwork and administrative functions.

The Balloon

There are several manufacturers who are capable of building a corporate balloon, and your choice will depend on the type of work that is planned for the program as well as the preference of the pilot. It's important to look at the manufacturer's ability to reproduce logos and build accurate shapes, as well as consider the flight characteristics of the different brands.


Corporate hot air balloons enjoy an excellent safety record. Like every activity, there is always an element of risk. Ballooning's inherent simplicity combined with a high level of pilot skill makes corporate ballooning one of the safest sponsored sports.


Many agreements are written so the operator of the balloon owns all of the equipment. This way the sponsor is not involved with the operation of the aircraft in any way. Although we are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, this is generally considered sufficient sponsor/operator separation to protect the sponsor from direct liability. The sponsor is also named as an additional insured on the aircraft insurance policy.

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Media Coverage:
The media loves a balloon!

In addition to the millions of people that see a single corporate balloon during a year, the media shows great interest in covering special shape balloons due to their uniqueness and human interest.

We are experts at getting the media to cover our balloon and the sponsor's product. In 1999 alone, we created over 30 million impressions from a single eight-month tour.

The author has flown corporate balloons that have appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, CNN Headline News, Weather Channel, The Nashville Network and thousands of local television broadcasts. He routinely does live radio broadcasts from balloons as they fly over major cities, and the balloons have appeared in numerous newspapers, often in full color front page pictures. These balloons have also appeared in national magazines, including the cover of National Geographic's WORLD.

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Corporate Photo Album

Here are some pictures of corporate balloons that you might enjoy. You'll probably get some good ideas for your own corporate balloon!

Standard shape balloon with banner being flown at Albuquerque
Standard shape for Jack in the Box Restaurants
RE/MAX balloon pre-dawn glow, Johnson Space Center media day
Rayovac special shape battery balloon
Famous Footwear athletic shoe special shape
Polar Bear special shape with banner
Cover of National Geographic's WORLD magazine
Energizer bunny special shape
Artwork of space shuttle special shape
Banner of special shape "cow jumped over the moon"
Motorola flip phone special shape
Planter's "Mr. Peanut" special shape
Moet Chandon champagne cork special shape
Ballpark Franks hot dog special shape
Tony the Tiger special shape

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Jim Whitesell is a commercial hot air balloon pilot who has flown corporate balloons in over 45 states and Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. He operates The Sky's the Limit which provides marketing and public relations services to corporate clients.

He can be reached through the Contact Us form on this site.

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