When you used to press the ‘off’ button on the TVs in New York’s yellow taxis they’d go blank. But no more: now the ads continue to run. Reminded me of a piece on omnipresent advertising in BrandWeek:
Every day, hundreds of jets lift off from Runway 33 of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, laying trails of gray exhaust across the muggy Houston sky. The planes climb steeply toward cruising altitude, and by the time they’re over the northern suburb of Humble, everything on the ground looks pretty small. Even the huge billboards that dot the city’s metro area are difficult to see. The lone exception is the roof of Humble High School. It’s a perfect 160,000-sq.-ft. box. And if Cynthia Calvert has her way, it will soon have an ad on it.
“We’re looking for an advertiser who wants to be under all those people,” she says. “We have found a company that’ll paint it.” And what will the school get from surrendering the very roof over its head? Calvert can’t put it more plainly: “Found money,” she says.
Calvert runs a new company called Steep Creek Media, which also is looking to sell ads in the school’s parking lot, its stadium, and even at the bottom of its swimming pool.
Advocates say that, in times like these, such deals are a no-brainer. Brands get exposure in high-visibility locations that were never available to them before, and cities (most of whom are reluctant to raise taxes at a time when unemployment is already at historic highs) get a revenue stream simply by signing a few pieces of paper. “We’ve been seeing, for a number of years, a trend toward more partnerships between communities and advertisers,” observes Jeff Golimowski, the communications director at the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. “It’s an opportunity for advertisers to reach consumers in new, surprising and delightful ways, and an opportunity for communities to develop new revenues.”
Opponents, however, are somewhat less delighted. They maintain that taxpayer-supported, civic property is no place for a junk-food ad, and the proliferation of public-space messaging is, in the words of Vanessa Gruen, special projects director at New York’s Municipal Art Society, “unnecessary, visual pollution.” One thing’s certain: As the recession deepens, more cities are likely to explore these measures. If it’s true that you can’t fight city hall, you may soon be able to buy an ad on it.