This Space For Sale

23 11 2011

They say that death and taxes are about the only things you cannot avoid, but whoever that ubiquitous “they” is apparently forgot the omnipresence of advertising. Every media invention of the last 500 years has ushered in a new era of communication between sellers and intended buyers. Print. Radio. Outdoor. Mail. TV. Internet. Apps.

And now just about any other space you can imagine. Even governmental infrastructure and schools.

Not that this is exactly new news. State toll roads have bid out exclusive service station and restaurant contracts for years. Higher education institutions public and private have sold stadia naming rights. College bowl games are seldom ever referred to by their original names, but rather that of their corporate benefactor.

But now it is getting worse, and we can blame the recession in large part. With all levels of government strapped for cash, the idea of every observable surface being prime advertising real estate has gotten traction. Schools, college and universities have also embraced the idea, selling naming rights for virtually any and every physical location on campus.

Right here in WT’s College of Business we have sold naming rights for nearly every classroom. We are trying to finding a significant donor who would like to see his or her name on the wall. And after that the departments need to be named, research labs, you name it. Even the broom closet.

But one must ask this important question: When is all this advertising too much? And are there no more sacred places left that can be declared ad-free?

It reminds me of the world gone haywire in Idiocracy, where everyone drinks Brawndo (“The Thirst Mutilator”) all day long and mumbles advertising taglines.

While I understand the rationale in selling public space for advertising, I will be frank and say that in some instances it is simply beyond the pale. The Dr Pepper logo on a Texas school roof may raise funds for the school, and even catch the attention of people flying overhead. But it is utterly distasteful, and sends the wrong health message to students.

I wonder how long it will be before we see corporate logos in our national parks (beyond the usual concession licensees). On the Golden Gate Bridge. Government office buildings. Military bases. Sections of interstate highway.

Wait. We already talked about that earlier this semester with those Zappos.com “Sponsor A Highway” signs on I-15 near Las Vegas.

From a marketing perspective, all is fair in love and advertising. No space is so sacred that it could not bear a sponsor’s well-placed logo. But from our mere human angle, there is a line beyond which all tact and decorum is lost. A line beyond which not only is beauty or sanctity compromised, but an advertisers actually risks running afoul of soured public opinion.

I can only imagine returning to Rocky Mountain National Park next summer only to find signs begging me to climb the XYZ Long’s Peak, drive So-And-So’s Trail Ridge Road, and shop at Big Company’s RMNP Gift Store.

Yes, I know that times are tight, and tax revenues short. State funding of schools has tanked. There’s scant little money to fill potholes, much less build new infrastructure. And there are are still quite a few companies flush with cash and eager to spend it on marketing.

Commercial graffiti can be a lot like pornography. You can’t really define it, but you know it when you see it. And if companies are not smart enough to draw the line, they may pay the ultimate tax in their very own death.

Dr “Water Is Just That Stuff From The Toilet” Gerlich

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