It’s a choice that Baltimore officials never thought they’d have to make: advertisements on the sides of fire trucks, or no fire trucks at all? But for Baltimore and other cities struggling to make ends meet, corporate sponsorship may be the only way to raise much-needed funds. Even if Baltimore’s fire trucks don’t end up emblazoned with a company logo, their city buildings, recreation centers and parks may soon have corporate names (as strange a notion as Canada’s physical activity program, ParticipACTION, partnering with Coca-Cola).
It sounds like a scene out of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s futuristic novel, where even the names of years in the America of tomorrow have been sold out to corporate interests (the story is set in The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment). But in fact, according to the New York Times, before the recession hit, one city was allowing supermarkets to advertise on the backs of police cars, while in another, anti-smoking ads graced the hose covers of fire trucks. As the economic downturn began to pinch cities’ pocketbooks, more officials began to consider selling the naming rights to public places. Many transit systems (including the Chicago Transit Authority and New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority) are already taking the plunge, allowing companies to rename train or subway stations.
Advertisers, too, are excited about the prospect of promoting their wares through new media. In the age of TiVo, it’s more difficult to get consumers to pay attention to commercials, but the name of a local park or an advertisement on the side of a police car is harder to tune out. And perhaps most importantly, parents will no longer be able to decide when and where their children will be exposed to advertisements. The neighborhood public school could be sponsored by Coca-Cola, while every fire hydrant is plastered with an ad for KFC.
This practice raises several questions. On the one hand, it looks like the meager amount of money cities can raise would do little to fend off the tide of lay-offs and city bankruptcies. Perhaps more importantly, though, if we are selling off naming rights for public schools and fire departments to soda and fast food companies, what kind of message would this send to our children? This would signal that not only is it normal to eat monstrosities like the KFC Double Down, but also that childhood heroes like cops and firefighters endorse it. Indeed, it can be tempting to focus exclusively on the bottom line (especially in hard economic times), but often that monomaniacal focus on economics can lead to immoral practices.
Photo Credit: navifotos