On July 1, “NBC Nightly News” ran a story it called “a sign of the times.”
“Local governments across the country are getting creative to raise much-needed revenue,” said reporter Gabe Gutierrez. “Some of them have started selling advertisements in unusual public places—and, as you might imagine, it is not without controversy.”
Gutierrez went on to say that cities have long sold ad space on trains and buses. But now, he said, city council members in cash-strapped Baltimore have approved ad sales on firetrucks in hopes of averting fire-station closures.
“Baltimore isn’t the only town thinking outside that box,” Gutierrez said. “City leaders throughout the country are getting creative to make ends meet. Chicago has sold ad space on some iconic bridges to Bank of America. Philadelphia has rented out a transit station to AT&T. And the small town of Brazil, Ind., let KFC advertise its fiery chicken wings on fire hydrants.”
Gutierrez said that some critics equate the practice to “commercial graffiti.”
But, hey, revenue is revenue—especially when it’s non-tax revenue.
NBC’s story reminded me of my first-ever meeting with then-Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith.
The year was 1994. I’d just signed on as marketing and public relations director for Indianapolis Downtown Inc. My boss, Tamara Zahn, wanted me to meet the mayor and hear his vision for downtown.
The three of us sat around a small round table in Goldsmith’s office. The mayor typed on his laptop while we spoke, but never missed a beat of the conversation.
Hizzoner spoke that day of the untapped revenue potential of downtown. His rationale: We have big sporting events. We have big conventions. We have millions of visitors. We have a million residents. So we should sell access to that.
The mayor said we should sell adds on the sides of buildings, on crosswalks, on parking meters. He equated the idea to Nike Town, the retail store.
“We could make our entire downtown Nike Town,” said the mayor. “Swooshes everywhere.”
“Sell everything,” said Mayor Goldsmith. “Sell everything.”
Given what’s happening in Baltimore and elsewhere, it seems Goldsmith was ahead of his time.
Which got me imagining all the things we could sell and to whom.
With our inadequate public transportation system, it’s difficult to go when and where you need to go in this city. That’s a great opportunity for “Metamucil: When you just can’t go.”
Mayor Greg Ballard is apparently exploring farming out management of the City-County Building. Imagine the dollars we could fetch from selling ads in targeted departments that reside there.
The Republicans and Democrats could fight over ad space in voter registration.
ACE Cash Express, a payday lender, could sponsor the County Treasurer’s office.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes could advertise their next films in divorce court.
And Procter & Gamble could sponsor all the bail hearings for its Bounty paper towels: (“The quicker picker-upper.”)
Bicycling is all the rage in Indianapolis. But nationally and internationally, the rage in cycling involves the investigation of Lance Armstrong for alleged drug use and blood doping. So let’s sell our bike lanes to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The feds need all the positive PR they can get.
The recent accident that dumped hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite into the Garfield Park pool gave chemicals a bad name. Maybe we could restore the industry’s reputation by resurrecting the old DuPont campaign: “Better living through chemistry.”
Speaking of chemicals, our recent smoking ban left the smoke/no smoke/kill-the-employees decision up to the owners of cigar bars, hookah bars and the members of private clubs. So let’s package these properties and sell the collective ad space to Advair asthma inhalers, or a pulmonology practice group or the Batesville Casket Co. (“We don’t want your business.”)
We could sell ads on all our police weapons to Don’s Guns.
We could promote reruns of “Family Feud” in the City-County Council chambers.
We could sell sewage treatment ads to market Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
We could sell the Allisonville Road/Interstate 465 construction site to Alaska Tourism (“Come see the Bridge to Nowhere”).
We could sell the old Circle Centre Nordstrom space to Speedway service stations (“When you have that empty feeling”).
We could sell the Indianapolis Public Schools to Staples (“Just press the ‘Easy’ button and you graduate”).
Peter Francis Geraci, the monotone bankruptcy attorney, might be interested in our privatized but poorly performing parking meters.
Wham-O, makers of Frisbee flying disks, would just love our exploding manhole covers.
And Tire Barn seems like a natural for sponsor-a-pothole ads.
Mayor Goldsmith told me to sell everything. I’ve just outlined hundreds of millions in potential revenue. I’ll be looking for my property tax refund in the mail.•
Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.