Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2001 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

The ectoplasm of a ghost economy -- WHEN Webvan, the online grocer, folded, there was much sorrow among those of us who enjoy typing credit card numbers on computers, clicking on icons of bananas, and having real bananas show up magically at the door at our convenience. Now, if we want bananas, we have to leave the house again. Darn. Certainly not the golden future I imagined.

Now the lawyers and creditors and liquidators will pick at the bones. In Webvan's case there are bones to pick, unlike most dotcoms which consisted of a website, a baffling business model, a visionary, and overworked engineers, there are actual assets-- warehouses and trucks.

As a matter of fact, the San Francisco Giants are the proud owners of some Webvan assets, kind of. Every seat cup holder at Pac Bell Park is plastered with the Webvan logo, 42,000 logos in all. What do you do about that?

The logos are paid for through the year, but on the other hand, why advertise a company that no longer exists, when that valuable cupholder space could be sold to another dotcom that will go broke within the year? This could set up a lucrative franchise in the seat cup holder logo leasing niche market. Of course, you'd have to pay maintenance people overtime for all the logo scraping they'll have to do, but I'll bet the profit margin would still make it worthwhile.

When you think about it, the amount of surface available for advertising has expanded outwards in roughly the same ratio as the number of dotcoms collapsing inwards. Yes, businesses are dropping like flies, but we now see ads on buses, ads on automatic teller machines, ads on blimps, ads on flying banners, matchbooks, mini-vans, even on those little dividers that separate people's groceries at the store.

And what about the billboards for defunct companies?

You see them all the time, the company's in Chapter 11, but the billboard's paid for through the month. There they stand as you crawl by in gridlock, advertisements for nothing, the ectoplasm of a ghost economy.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales