Why skywriting and other forms of aerial advertising are booming in LA

Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

On a lightly breezy afternoon, Carlos Shihady and Maram Shehada stood together at the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where the rocky land juts a finger out into the Pacific, and watched "Carlos (heart) Maram 12 17 2022" appear in the sky.

It was a grand save-the-wedding-date gesture to share with family and friends via social media, marking a high point in a harrowing journey for the couple, long separated by war and pandemic.

With both finally in America together, it had taken more than a month of planning to get to this moment: a squadron of airplanes, so high they couldn't be seen, forming words with computer-choreographed puffs of vaporized liquid that could be seen for miles

"The clouds parted in time and I think I was just standing there with her and saying, 'Oh, my God, look at the writing,'" Shihady said. "It was a special moment for us to announce this date because of all that we went through, you know, with COVID, with Syria."

A full-on craze in the early days of aeronautics, skywriting faded over the decades. The messages didn't have the staying power of other forms of advertising, blowing away in the wind, and, at best, were preserved on low resolution photographs and video that were rarely shared with anyone except immediate friends and family.

But social media and our insatiable promotional hunger have pushed the throttle on the old-timey art form.


Skywriting and other forms of aerial advertising are booming in Southern California, where endless sunny skies create the ideal backdrop to reach a huge audience doing things outdoors or stuck in traffic.

The fleeting images speak of romance, corporate promotions, politics (Donald Trump, for and against, is a favorite subject) and any number of hot-button issues — all shared again and again on social media with the help of smartphones that not only preserve shareable images but can also read hashtags and QR codes floating overhead.

Deep pockets have been launching aerial events for all manner of promo-worthy things: concerts ("Blink-182 IS COMING!" a recent one read), music drops ("TYGA AND DOJA GET FREAKY DEAKY"), products ("CLARITIN CLEAR TODAY") and movies ("TOP GUN" flanked by pilot's wings for the sequel). The price tag starts at a few hundred dollars for a plane to pull a banner to a hefty six figures for an elaborately choreographed night drone operation.

The beach during summer is prime aerial advertising territory. Events including Pasadena's Rose Parade — a national audience saw "AMERICA IS GREAT! TRUMP IS DISGUSTING" one year — the Super Bowl at Inglewood's SoFi Stadium have drawn sky displays. A recent video game release party unleashed a 400-drone display in the darkness over downtown Los Angeles.


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