Hucksterism (lack of dignity and taste in selling things) is taken to a new level with many cities looking to overcome a budget shortfall by selling naming rights to various municipal assets. A recent New York Times article conveys how ads are creeping into our culture as cities like Baltimore, who’s council members wrote legislation urging the city to sell corporate sponsorship on fire trucks become more pervasive. It appears that Baltimore is facing tough decisions; including closing three fire stations permanently. The selling of logo space on fire trucks is going to be a better alternative since the local economy has not improved over several years.
For years ad agencies have been looking for new and different ways to advertise. This type of advertising is termed “guerilla” or stealth advertising to label “edgy” urban advertisements. A few years ago Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners stenciled New York sidewalks with the line: “From here it looks like you could use some new underwear” on behalf of Bamboo Lingerie.
This tactic in hindsight seems rather genteel and clever now that Colonel Sanders is stenciling a KFC logo on potholes it paid to fill. In California we have had private companies sponsoring highway litter removal, with a corporate name printed on a highway sign. Society is used to re-naming sports arenas such as San Francisco’s Candlestick Park being re-named 3Com Park and then resold to Monster Cable and the stadium was renamed Monster Park. Let’s consider the possibilities: “The LoJack Chicago Police Department” or “The Viagra Seattle Space Needle”. How about “The LifeAlert Boston Department of Health” or “The Garmin Denver Rescue Helicopter” and of course “The Clear Channel Los Angeles River”.
Does anyone really care that in the future our police cars will be plastered with stickers like a NASCAR protege soon? The alternative of having nothing is grim. If only municipalities could be as bold as Victor Norman (Clark Gable, in the 1947 film the Hucksters) as he reaches in his pocket, pulls out the money, and throws it into the street. "Now we're starting with exactly nothing," he says, "it's neater that way."