When I was a kid, I read Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It was a funny little poem that imagined a place where there’s no more ground under our feet. I’ve often wondered the same about Advertising. When it comes to placement of media in the public domain, where do WE end? Where are our limits? Do we have any limits at all?
I believe I’ve found that limit, courtesy of Rahm Emanuel’s first real blunder of his administration. To help raise $25 million toward a $600 million budget deficit, the Mayor is now allowing the placement of ads on city property that includes Chicago’s landmark bridges. So cross the Wabash Avenue Bridge and you’ll see a giant Bank of America banner on the bridge’s iconic tender house.
Oh goodie. Can’t wait until Spring, when the bus and boat tours packing tourists go by. “On your right, Ladies and Gentlemen, where you see the ultra large Bank of America banner, is the site of Fort Dearborn.”
I know Emanuel wants to leave his own mark on the city, but this is not the anti-Daley move I had in mind. I seriously doubt our former Mayor, with his continuous intent on beautification projects, would’ve followed this path.
City Spokeswoman Kathleen Strand insulted everyone in this city’s intelligence by suggesting putting an ad on an architectural landmark isn’t all that different than the CTA allowing ads on buses and El trains.
Oh, Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Can we talk?
You see, dear, I feel silly pointing out the difference, but in your case, apparently I have to.
Placing an ad on a public domain that devalues the experience of looking at that property is in poor taste by all parties that put it there.
Here’s your litmus test:
Do we say things like…
“That garbage can would be so much more attractive without the ads on it.”
“That bus would be beautiful without the ads inside it.”
“The ad detracts from this gorgeous Red Line train.”
Come on. You and I both know that nobody in their right mind says that. Because, let’s face it – buses, trains and garbage cans are not landmarks we’re going to put in a photo album. When my former college roommate Curtis was visiting this Summer from Indianapolis, what as the first thing he took a picture of? Our bridges. He wouldn’t snap that picture now. Not of the Wabash bridge. No way.
It’s tempting to pile on Bank of America for their role in this, but for once, this isn’t really their mistake. It’s the Mayor’s Office’s. Put yourself in the advertiser’s shoes if you will:
“Hi, this is Mayor Emanuel’s office. We’d like to offer you the opportunity to advertise on the landmark Wabash Avenue Bridge over the next month or so. You’ll have extraordinary visibility, obviously. Just give us $4,500.”
First of all, it’s an insult to the bridge you only asked for that much. More importantly, even if Bank of America didn’t think it was the best idea – they’re getting dibs on high visibility property for peanuts at a time when they had to pull back from a $5 monthly debit card fee fiasco. Could you really blame them for taking the Mayor’s offer?
There are more creative solutions to trimming a budget deficit. Personally, I thought trimming the City Council would be a good place to start and that would take care of a few million bucks right there. But I’ve also given the Mayor credit for his crowdsourcing effort through his budget site at ChicagoBudget.org. Yet, if the more than 10,000 ideas he got on that site, I just can’t believe that posting advertising on landmarks was one of the big ideas that rose to the top.
We’re so much better than this. There’s no doubt we need to close budget gaps and get creative in how we do it. I know $600 million isn’t going to go away. But that shouldn’t mean selling our soul by putting an ad on every available piece of real estate. And this is a veteran of the advertising world talking here, remember.
In reality, while B of A got a steal of a deal, it’s not even that great of a branding move. If you’re going to be this visible, send the audience to some place online where they can be part of a community or offer input. A web address? QR code? Anything? No. This is just a logo and tagline that obstructs what was there before and adds nothing. It’s so bad it’s basically a hair above littering, except the regular litter gets to blow away and not bother you too much.
Was it worth it? No. Is it worth ending the experiment in landmark advertising right now? You bet.
Because at the end of the day, a clear, unblocked view of the architecture is our city’s best advertising.