Burton on the Bay
Hey, Buddy: Want to Buy a Bridge?
Yes, the Bay Bridge or at least its advertising rights is for sale.
The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what shes done.
And so we scorn the codfish,
While the humble hen we prize,
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise.
This weekly sheet you hold in your hands, dear reader, is courtesy of a passel of businessmen and women who, like the humble hen, believe it pays to advertise. God bless em. In a round about way, they pay me.
But events of late prompt one to wonder how intrusive advertising can be in our daily lives and whether those who peddle advertising for their commissions are pushing too far. Is there no end to what should and could be advertised, when, where and how?
The regulars who read this column need not be reminded that this writer ordinarily is not one to be seen in front of the boob tube. But from the beginning of the conflict in Iraq until it was winding down, I spent many hours observing events in that faraway country.
You might say I was reintroduced to television. And I might say, the whole process reaffirmed my decision years ago to give up watching, except for an occasional football game or a special program of particular interest.
Ye gads! How many commercials can be squeezed into a single station break? How much exposure to sales pitches is a viewer willing to endure for the privilege of watching a given program?
Back in the days when I watched a reasonable amount of TV, a commercial break afforded time to dash to the kitchen to refill a glass. My friend Earl Ashenfelter the late guide of Susquehanna fame kept a fair number of small white perch or herring, which he fried crisp and called television snacks.
When the commercials played, hed go to the stove to grab one of the golden brown fish and wash it down with a beer: Thus the name television snacks. Today, it seems I can make a run to Mars supermarket and get another two-liter bottle of diet orange Slice and return in time to endure a few more 30-second spots before regular programming resumes. Earl could bake a whole rockfish stuffed with crab.
The saving grace is that a TV viewer can turn a switch or leave a room, and a reader can turn the page. But what about advertising, say thats stuck into your face so theres no way to avoid it not if you want to cross over the bridge? The Chesapeake Bay Bridge that is.
On the Bridge, Catch 22
Egads! I see by the financial pages theres a move underfoot to allow us to cross that span of four miles or more at certain times for free free monetarily that is. Yep, wed save the two and a half bucks. But theres a catch. Wed be pretty much obliged to look over the intrusive propaganda of those advertisers who pick up the tab.
Hey, weve already got that on the tube dont we? We save the tariff at the movie house (and can snack and drink at one-10th the price) by putting up with commercials that run for so long that we sometimes forget whose playing on the field, what the plot of the drama is or even what day it is. Never mind trying to decipher the disclaimers of an automobile dealer rattled off at the speed of a Concorde to let us know we dont qualify for no money down, no interest and no payments until 2009.
Heres the pitch with the Bay Bridge, as I understand it: We get the free ride (and most of us know when the word free is used it means beware) and Preparation H will pick up the tab in exchange for advertising on toll booth signs, toll plaza banners and high-volume state websites which means any motorist on the computer will have to ferret through the ads to learn which lanes are eastbound at a given time.
State transportation officials want us to believe this isnt a greedy money grab. Theyre not trying to make up for the Glendening deficit by making the Bay Bridge one big billboard. They wouldnt do that, no sireee. Its all in the interest of alleviating backups.
They tell us of the backups that occur at peak hours as it seems everyone on the Western Shore from as far west as San Francisco is headed for Ocean City backups of four to 12 miles. Presto, a good bit of change changes hands under their scheme, and no one has to bother stopping to pay the toll-taker. Just breeze on by.
For some reason or other, theyve neglected to tell us how in the name of common sense theyre going to squeeze all that non-stop eastbound traffic that fills so many lanes west of the span into the two or three lanes the bridge will accommodate. Bottlenecks is a word alien to them. They want us to think passage over the Chesapeake would be akin to those who now use E-Z Pass and hardly even have to slow down.
But the hullabaloo campaign is in full swing. Its a win-win dynamite (a favorite word in the cubicles of advertising agencies) campaign, were told, not to mention the first in the nation. Dont be surprised if, in the not-too-distant future, the concept turns up everywhere a toll booth is situated. While seated in the family jalopy, well be able to catch up on any special offers we might have missed in TV commercials.
Whats In a Name?
You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements, wrote Norman Douglas in 1917. Me, I get to wondering how silly all of this can get, seeing there was a bill in the General Assembly, the final results of which escape me, to allow advertisers to buy the naming rights of bridges just as those with big money get to put their logos and names on stadiums.
Forget that the Bay Bridge is really the William Preston Lane Bridge, named so in honor of a former governor who boosted easier access to the Eastern Shore. How many realize that? But what happens if Pepsi Cola buys the naming rights, sending William Preston Lane into historical oblivion? What if the wizards at Coke down in Atlanta outbid everyone else to pay for our rides across the Pepsi Bay Bridge?
Coke, were told, could do that three times, June 13, 20 and 27 (Fridays from 7pm to Saturdays at 8am) for $52,000 to $61,000 a pop or $172,000 for the whole ball of wax. Though a lot of bread, thats peanuts compared with what Pepsi would ante up to put its logo on the bridge permanently.
They gotta sell a lot of soft drinks to recoup, so picture a sweltering evening, and youre subjected to all those tantalizing beverage ads as you head to Ocean City. Your mouth gets dry as a persimmon, driving gets to be like crossing the Sahara in a Humvee. The throat feels stuffed with cotton.
Hey, Im an entrepreneur. All I want is to lease a small patch of land on the median strip at the other end of the Pepsi Bay Bridge something big enough to set up a lemonade stand.