Ads in the sand spark oohs, aahs and consternation.
When Bobby Godwin or one of his four Hawaii employees peels up an Earthstamp to reveal an imprinted image in the sand, people say, "Wow, that’s cool," Godwin said. "I get the same reaction all the time."
Well, except when a couple people in Kailua said they thought it was "annoying." It might have been one of them who contacted the Outdoor Circle with a complaint.
Godwin founded Earthstamp Inc. in June 2009 and launched it in May. He is touring specific markets to promote his stamps that imprint advertising images in sand and snow. The nascent business isn’t yet profitable, but he is "planting seeds," he said.
They are custom made for clients "to use wherever and whenever they want," and range in size, shape and price, from $245 to $1,695.
In addition to custom stamps, the online catalog includes a variety of novelty stamps and public safety stamps for high surf, jellyfish influxes and the like. He was approached by a wildlife group in Florida to make stamps to warn people away from turtle-nesting areas. He was also asked to make a stamp denigrating BP for its oil spill, which he declined. "I don’t want to be known for that," he said.
Godwin employs a crew in his Idaho stamp-making shop and has a stamping and sales staff of 13 in Florida, one so far in Southern California, and he has hired four people in Hawaii to stamp various beaches in the mornings and drum up sales. One stamp promoting his company has a maze, while another includes animal shapes to entertain children.
Informed of Hawaii’s Outdoor Circle and its generations-long crusade against outdoor advertising, Godwin said he had already heard from them.
"They thought I was being insensitive, and they’d like me to call off my launching in Hawaii," he said.
Jurisdictional issues could muck up the water, but the beach stamping is essentially illegal, said Bob Loy, Outdoor Circle director of environmental programs. The vocal nonprofit has more than 3,500 members statewide.
"Under state law the most important tenet of Hawaii’s anti-billboard law and the foundation of all Hawaii’s strong, protective sign laws is the prohibition against off-site advertising," Loy said.
The temporal nature of the sand-vertising is irrelevant, Loy said. "Beyond those very practical and insurmountable reasons why this can’t be allowed in Hawaii, do you really think the people of Hawaii want their beaches used for advertising purposes?"
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources agrees with Loy’s read of the law, up to a point.
The company "at this time has no authority to stamp imprints on unencumbered lands within state jurisdiction," said Laura Stevens, acting DLNR spokeswoman. The entire shoreline is essentially unencumbered land, she explained.
One law prohibits commercial activities except in cases where a written permit has been obtained from the state Land Board.
The other law prohibits the display or posting of notices or advertisements "except with the prior written permission of the (Land) board or its authorized representative."
Permission can be granted if the message relates to "services, goods or facilities available within the premises and the notices and advertisements are found by the board or its authorized representative to be desirable and necessary for the convenience and guidance of the public."
Godwin sees this as an opening if he can get a permit. A permit would "totally legitimize the process," Godwin said.
The Outdoor Circle fails to recognize that he is employing local people, Godwin added. "They’ve got hope, this is an opportunity for them," he said. Customers who buy stamps might also hire staff to imprint beaches, he said.
"It’s harmless. … It’s just a simple way to put messages down." He calls Earthstamping green and earth-friendly. "It’s not like I’m erecting a sign with lights on it and stuff right out here on the sand," he said.
The Outdoor Circle hurdle notwithstanding, most businesses choose proven advertising methods, and Godwin knows he has to push Earthstamp past the novelty aspect and that the stamps are not for everyone. Car dealers nowhere near the sand would not benefit, but beachfront or adjacent businesses can, he said. A real estate agent trying to sell a $12 million home on the beach might want to stamp the sand in front of it with an image of the house and their contact information, he said.
"I get too much of a reaction on my product for it not to take off," said Godwin, and toward that end he has recently joined the Advertising Specialty Institute, a trade group of more than 40,000 distributors and suppliers of specialty advertising items, which could equal huge distribution potential.
"I don’t expect every business to have one," he said, but "if six resorts in every resort town in the world had one, that’d be plenty for me," he said with a laugh.