EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Burgers, fries and felonies
When I first heard about a place called the Staples Center, I thought it might be a tattoo parlor that offered a new kind of body piercing. I eventually learned that the Staples Center was a Los Angeles sports arena, one among many nationally that had sold its name to a corporate sponsor.
A little tacky, I thought, but so is Dennis Rodman.
Now, feeling the recession’s financial pinch, some cities are willing to get a few corporate tattoos in exchange for free police cars. Charlotte, N.C.-based Government Acquisitions has signed up more than 20 cities willing to accept donated police cars with ads on them, and it claims that an additional 200 cities are interested in the dignity-for-dollars exchange.
Government Acquisitions says it will seek ads from national and local companies, including bail bondsmen and attorneys. Why stop there? Street signs are ideal venues for advertising messages: “STOP Ñ for lunch at McDonalds.” “YIELD Ñto your cravings for a Krispy Kreme.”
I don’t agree with the critics of the free car scheme who suggest that some cops might be more lenient on advertisers involved in minor offenses or show them other preferential treatment. Why place the police in that position when there are other public places to sell ad space?
For example, General Motors is willing to give San Diego 35 free cars in exchange for placing ads on the city’s lifeguard towers. Other cities make money selling public transit advertising, but why allow advertising inside school buses, an idea being contemplated by a Key West, Fla., community? I see nothing wrong with plastering ads on the sides of trash trucks, as at least two communities have done, but I have a problem with Biggs, Calif., which is considering changing its name to Got Milk?, Calif., for a “meaningful contribution” from the California Milk Processor Board.
There should be limits to the commercialization of our communities; otherwise we might end up with Pepsico Mayor Bob Smith from Taco Bell, Ky., at the opening of the city’s new Pizza Hut Maximum Security Prison, where each of its “customers” is wearing a uniform supplied by Nike, the official outfitter of convicted felons.
The decisions to rent advertising space on city property are not being made to improve city services, but are designed to solve short-term budget problems. After the recession, will the ad dollars be too hard give up?
P.T. Barnum once said that money is a terrible master but an excellent servant. Advertisers are always seeking effective ways to serve their needs. Cities considering extreme measures to raise funds need to decide if the money they seek ultimately will be a welcome master.