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Jewish World Review July 7, 2000 / 4 Tamuz, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports

In Your Face Advertising -- HOW WOULD YOU LIKE to drive the length of Wilshire Boulevard and have Jim Carrey’s goofy face smiling at you the entire way? While I’m certain there are those who may find this concept desirable, I am not one of them. Nor do I wish to be accosted by large cartoon chickens bulging their eyes out at me as I attempt to negotiate a left turn in busy traffic.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I am referring to the hottest thing to hit outdoor advertising since the sandwich board -- city buses completely painted over with unsightly billboard ads. Ad-Mobiles I call them. Unlike the old ads which were limited to a simple display panel on the sides and rear of the bus, these fully ad-rendered vehicles are obtrusive eyesores that absolutely DEMAND one’s attention (which is the whole point and the reason marketing people love them).

You can’t get away from the damned things, either. When encountering an offensive stationary billboard, you may not necessarily like it but at least you know it will be out of your sight in the second after you pass it. With these buses, depending on traffic and the direction you’re headed, you may be stuck looking at it for blocks. It’s down-your-throat advertising.

Of course, the very nature of advertising is assaulting -- it always has been.

Roadside billboards intrude on the outdoor landscape; television commercials rudely interrupt in the middle of a dramatic program to scream their “buy me” message at you; people walk around wearing clothing that not only advertises the clothing maker, but all sorts of other products and opinions. But this bus business is different somehow and in some ways even worse.

This is not to say I am against advertising altogether. It is a necessity of free enterprise, a significant component in healthy business competition and it has been a part of American commerce since the beginning. The key is in choosing the proper medium and applying your message with good taste. There is nothing proper nor tasteful about transforming a city bus into a traveling ad placard.

Besides the obvious eye pollution in having a large vehicle totally engulfed from bumper to bumper with a hideous billboard, these things also represent a real distraction to driving safely -- especially when the featured ad is something like “Sex In The City” showcasing a pigeon-toed, knock-kneed blonde in a mini skirt.

The fact that the motor vehicles being prostituted in this way are city government owned and operated bothers me too. I didn’t mind the ads when they were done with subtlety and confined to relatively small areas, but this has gone too far. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t particularly care to see private companies plastering their commercials all over my tax supported city buses.

What’s next? Why not place ads on fire engines and police cars, too? And don’t forget the street maintenance trucks -- they could charge a premium because they are always out on the streets at the busiest times of day. Actually, the one city vehicle I would not mind seeing ads on would be the garbage trucks. At least that would be appropriate for most of today’s advertising.

But why stop with city vehicles? Let’s sell ad space on the walls in City Hall and the court houses. And why not paint the outside of all government buildings with advertising while we’re at it? The city already authorizes those ugly “community murals” (government sanctioned graffiti) to be painted on city and county property, so they might as well just take the next logical step and sell the space to advertisers. Privately-owned buildings do it, why not the government?

Let’s go ahead and sell space on city workers’ uniforms, also. Just like Little League baseball and bowling teams, we could have corporate sponsor advertising on the backs of police officers, fire fighters and other city employees. What a money maker! What a cash cow!

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last. It just so happens that we have the greatest potential for advertising revenue right under our very noses -- or more aptly, right under our very feet. Two words: “sidewalks and streets.” When you consider the miles upon miles of paved streets and sidewalks running through Los Angeles can you think of a larger “blank sheet of paper” or a less utilized space? You can imagine the size of ad they could paint all the way down Hollywood Boulevard from Gower to Highland! Designers could buy exclusive sections of the pavement on Rodeo Drive to promote their boutiques. And best of all, the city could sell advertising by the block! As an added plus street maintenance might go faster, since every day the road remains torn up would mean lost ad revenue.

Hey, maybe all this new found revenue will help recover some of the 4 million dollars the city council has pledged to donate to the National Democratic Party’s convention next month. Yeah, right. And if you believe that, I’ve got a fleet of beautifully decorated buses you might be interested in purchasing.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby