Let's start with the story that's received probably the most attention, that of the M.T.A. selling the naming rights to a Brooklyn subway station to the London-based bank, Barclays. I think I'll let The New York Times raise a few questions:
This raises a few questions. An academic might talk of the intersection between public and private space. A straphanger may ask how all those names can fit into one announcement.
And if a company can pay to get its name on any station, a New Yorker might wonder what’s next: Coca-Cola Presents 59th Street-Columbus Circle?
The answer is maybe. Once upon a time, geographic relevance determined a station’s name, but now, the authority says it is open to any naming agreements that can raise revenue for its transit system, including ones not directly tied to location.
Still, while selling station names could bring the authority revenue it needs, advertising experts say companies may not be as well-served.
“To be effective, the viewer needs to understand the relevance of the ad,” said Allen Adamson of Landor, a branding firm. “To rename the 59th and Lex stop the McDonald’s stop — it ain’t going to work. I don’t think it will stick.”
So not only is the M.T.A. possibly betraying its stewardship for $200,000 annually over the next 20 years (this might sound like a decent chunk of change, until you remember that the M.T.A. is facing a $1.2 billion deficit in 2009; yikes), but the plan might not even be effective. Alrighty.
On a related note, I was thoroughly confused by the new subway turnstiles at Penn Station's A Train stop, sponsored by H&M. Unlike the subway station naming rights, this idea actually makes some sense--it's a way to cover some of that $1.2 billion deficit without being too intrusive. Except the execution is horrific. Via the DesignNotes blog, here's what this bad boy looks like:
Double yikes. The alternate price listing is confusing as hell, especially in light of of the new subway fares, but I was more annoyed by the bright red coloration; as I first approached this new revenue model, I grew concerned that the subway station was closed and that I'd have to find a different train. Did H&M agree to this deal only if the finished product would be guaranteed to confuse subway riders?
Lastly, because I'm cool like that, I spent last Saturday night playing Guitar Hero with a few friends, and I noticed one similarity in all the disparate guitar hero venues: the conspicuous presence of Coca-Cola bottles and KFC containers sitting on a table. So there are now product placements in a video game that my friends paid for. This is quite a bit more disturbing than product placements in, for example, 30 Rock; that is a show that is, for the most part, provided free of charge, whether on Hulu or regular TV. If traditional advertising rates no longer can cover the costs of the show, then I understand the need to seek out alternative options. But Guitar Hero isn't something that is distributed free of charge--my friends had to pay money for it. And you can be sure that the video game isn't any cheaper because of the ads. What's next? Are we going to have product placements in novels? That possibility makes me nervous.