Sunday, October 07, 2007

BUS STORY # 53 (Ain’t That America)

In this month’s KUNM public radio newsletter, General Manager Richard S. Towne grouses about the rapidly expanding phenomenon of product placement. “There’s that bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table during the dinner scene of your favorite movie. Then there’s the long, lovely, lingering shot of the shiny new Lexus during your favorite, weekly crime drama on cable. You love the great new song on the radio by the singer Akon about his Lamborghini Gallardo.”

Towne goes on to reference a blog that reports Fergie (a “mega-popstar chanteuse with the best-selling band Black-Eyed Peas”) has signed a lucrative deal with a “hip” clothing company to feature its brand name in future songs. Those of us of a certain age and countercultural sensibility might deplore this new evidence of the corporate corruption of all that is sacred -- but then we'd have to laboriously (and probably futilely) explain why it’s not the same thing when Janis Joplin sings “O Lord, won’t you buy me/A Mercedes-Benz.”

So what does any of this have to do with ABQ RIDE? Note the two photos connected with this story. I’d originally planned to title them “It used to go like that, but now it goes like this” -- a line Bob Dylan used in concert back in 1966 when introducing a rocked-up version of his earlier folk version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” The first photo features one of the “400” series buses carrying the familiar side-of-bus advertising. The second photo also features a “400” – but what a difference! The first photo features an ABQ RIDE bus; the second, what we riders refer to as “the Allstate bus” or, more simply, “the blue bus.”

So what’s going on? Well, yes, of course: a new frontier for advertising. But why is the city allowing its buses to be converted from a symbol of municipal public transportation to rolling corporate advertisements?

The first thing to keep in mind is that public transportation does not pay for itself. It has to be subsidized (at least until there is no other alternative). Subsidies come from city taxes, fares, federal funding, and advertising.

According to the ABQ RIDE website, when the current director, Greg Payne, took over at the end of 2005, ABQ RIDE “was projected to be 6% over budget.” Payne “brought busboard advertising in-house . . . and continues to generate at least $30,000 per month in revenue. This is a 50% increase compared to past years when working with an outside contractor.” (So much for the vaunted theory that free enterprise and/or outsourcing is more efficient than government.) And, finally, “ . . . by June 30, 2006, ABQ RIDE’s actual financial status was 1.4% under budget.”

To return to the music analogy, the Rolling Stones were the first band to adopt corporate sponsorship for their concert tours. They explained this was how they kept the cost of tickets down for folks like you and me. Most folks I know would not prefer raising the cost of bus trips in order to keep ABQ RIDE’s current paint job.

Full vehicle advertising isn’t a brand new phenomenon. We’ve all seen cars and trucks with custom paint jobs or vinyl wraps advertising both national and local products (VW Bugs and PT Cruisers seem especially popular). Bus size advertising seems a pretty natural jump from here. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d bet a bus pass ABQ RIDE is not the first municipal bus system to rent out its buses as giant billboards.

As far as I can tell, this is a non-issue here in Albuquerque. For one thing, we’re a lot more preoccupied with the buses running on time than we are with how they look. For another, as Towne noted, product placement is an increasingly common and thus increasingly accepted phenomenon.

There is also the fact that local culture includes the low-rider subculture which has long featured extensive and strikingly unusual custom paint jobs. Maybe this has laid the groundwork for our ho-hum reaction to the new bus make-overs which are pretty tame in comparison.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the day when one of my fellow riders watches our bus pull up and says, “You all go on ahead. I’m waiting to ride the AT&T bus.”


October 9, 2007

From Chip in Seattle:

It happens here in Seattle with everything covered – how do you like this ad?


Blogger Geoffrey W. Dennis said...

Every bus with a message means one less billboard blocking the skyline, so I'm all for it. Advertising on buses can be entertaining, too. Check out the video on metacafe.


9:09 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Robin - these are outstanding! Thanks for posting this site.

12:27 PM  
Blogger John said...

Those painted buses are hilarious! I love all the ones where they use the wheels to complement the ad.

"I don’t know this for sure, but I’d bet a bus pass ABQ RIDE is not the first municipal bus system to rent out its buses as giant billboards."

You'd win a bus pass then, cause you can see this stuff just about everywhere. In fact, there's an article on Wikipedia about Wrap advertising:

4:40 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

John -- the Wikipedia link is fascinating and highly recommended. Thanks for posting this site.

9:15 PM  
Blogger abqdave said...

I really hate the new advertising, because it changes the bus from a City of Albuquerque bus with advertising on it, to an "AT&T bus" (or whatever company ad is on it) with very little that identifies it as a City of Albuquerque bus.

To me, it says we are not proud of our transit system and do not care about presenting an important city service in the best, most professional manner possible.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I have mixed feelings myself, abqdave. I like the
ABQ RIDE designs a lot. On the other hand, I find myself keeping an eye out for the dang things – like that new “yellow” Rapid Ride I caught a glimpse of a few days ago. What is that one all about?

I suspect its ultimately about finding the means to keep affordable fares and still buy those new “100% ADA compliant and . . . 99% emission free” buses which I’m also keeping an eye out for.

I would like to see drivers' salary increases added to that list. That's a whole 'nother story.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous michaela said...

Just found this blog, and I've been sitting here glued to the stories! You have a good ear for interesting things happening on buses.

I live in Minneapolis without a car, and while I understand that selling ads is necessary to keep the system running, it can be a hazard! We have some buses that are totally plastered like the Seattle bus, and it makes it almost impossible to see the landmarks that let you know it's time to pull the cord. They seem to be getting better about covering the windows, but I always am disappointed when a completely covered bus pulls up to my stop...

4:57 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Michaela: thank you for your kind words. It's interesting you're from Minneapolis because two of the seven links I'm featuring are Minneapolis bus blogs: Bus and Picking Up Strangers (the latter a blog from a bus driver's perspective). I hope you'll check them out, too.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

The county I used to live in features a free, county-wide transit system. Technically it's non-profit, but it operates with tax dollars. Last year they decided that they needed more money, but flatly refused to sell ad space because it is tacky. Instead, they asked for and received a sales tax increase to support their operation, putting the county at 9%. I say sell the ad space!

3:07 PM  

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