Sunset Beach Bans Inflatable Ads

Wilmington, NC – Swimmers and sunbathers at Sunset Beach won't be seeing billboards in the water any time soon.

The town council has amended its advertising ordinance to ban inflatable billboards from local sands and surf. Planning board chairman Al Siebert says the council took preemptive action after learning from planning staff that a new generation of beachside billboards might be in the works.

Siebert says the idea is to preserve the quiet character of Sunset Beach, which, he says, "is a very family-oriented type beach with not a lot of hoopla and different kind of things that pep a place up like that... It's pretty dignified."

Bill Barlow, CEO of BBI, a manufacturer of inflatable advertisements, says he could foresee a battle over First Amendment rights if more towns try to bar products like his.

"Banner airplanes have been plying the open oceans for years," he says, "and they've been involved in a lot of first Amendment rights, just like the entire billboard industry."

Barlow says demand for floating billboards is going up, but that several other bodies of water do have advertising bans, including the San Francisco Bay and the Chicago River.

Sunset Beach has no restrictions on banner airplanes, according to Siebert.