While we may or may not see PETA’s vegan bikini babes on the sides of our firetrucks anytime soon, a Baltimore City Council resolution has paved the way to turn our service vehicles into roving billboards. But why stop with fire trucks? According to the New York Times, in the mid-west, KFC paid to fill potholes and replace fire hydrants in exchange for blazoning its logo over manhole covers. A local grocery store in Massachusetts sponsored new police cars with its name on the trunks and fenders. Subway stops in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia are being re-named as if they were baseball stadiums.
Not everyone is happy with these developments, of course. “We are bombarded by ads everywhere we go, and these are public spaces meant to be reflective of the values of our society, co-opted by the private sector,” says Elizabeth Ben-Ishai of the Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project. Plus, it’s easy to imagine situations where corporate sponsorship of public services creates some awkward (or unethical!) conflicts of interest.
But shrinking federal and state budgets are putting cities like Baltimore in a bind. “As I’ve looked at budgets, they get bigger with less support from the federal and state governments,” William Welch, the councilmember who sponsored the legislation, told the Times. “And we can’t tax people out of existence. We’re trying, our mayor’s trying, to bring 10,000 more people back to Baltimore city. And if you have an increasing fee or tax structure, you’re not going to be able to do that. So you have to create alternatives.”
Of course, all this hand-wringing might be moot. Three Baltimore fire houses are slated to be shuttered at the end of the summer, saving the city as much as $6 million a year. It would take a whole lot of advertising to make up the difference. PETA? We’re looking at you…