January 28th, 2003
A Creepy Commercialism
A North Carolina company has approached Bristol with an offer the city council
Government Acquisitions Inc. has proposed leasing police cruisers to the department
at $1 per year. Here’s the catch: The cruisers will sport the advertising logos
of local, state or national clients of the company, among them, Dr Pepper, NAPA
Auto Parts, Tabasco, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Army and Valvoline. A
website claims the company already works with more than 1,000 government agencies
in the United States, and that it does not promote alcohol, tobacco, firearms
or gaming. The company’s web site displays a sample squad car sporting commercial
logos on its hood, trunk, rear bumper and fenders.
Bristol’s police chief, John DiVenere, admits to strongly mixed feelings, but
thinks the city should explore this proposal. On his recommendation, Bristol’s
board of police commissioners approved the concept and sent it to the city council
for full approval.
But this idea has already gone too far. For one thing, it’s undignified; it
relegates a police cruiser—equipment deployed in life-and-death situations
—to being a vehicle for commercial pitches. These logos also contain a subtext:
This cruiser was bought and paid for by commercial interests because Bristol
residents are too cheap to fund essential services. Is that a message the city
wants to send?
"The opportunity to advertise on government vehicles is not only about
brand recognition and point of sale activity," Government Acquisitions’
website states. "It’s also about giving back to the public and supporting
homeland security in America." Translation: We peddle a convenient rationale
by which companies can cash in on the reputations of police, fire and other
Profiting off of Sept. 11 is big sport these days. This scheme may be more
creative, but it’s no less offensive.