Friday, December 21, 2007

Branding public spaces

One of the more distressing advertising and branding trends of the last few decades or so has been the creeping corporate claim on public places.

We see it all the time now with sports venues.  In Boston, The Boston Garden was replaced with the Fleet (Bank) Center, which has been replaced by TD North Garden. At least TD North had the grace to leave the word "Garden" in the name, so that we can all go back to referring to the new edifice on the site of the ancient Boston Garden as "The Garden." (Pronunciation key: The GAH-din.)

Ball fields/stadiums have a history, of course, of being named after the team owners: Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field in Chicago, Briggs Field in Detroit, Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro (former home of the Patriots). But the practice of naming the ball park after the family has been replaced by offering up the names to corporate sponsors. Comerica. Tropicana. QualComm.

I'm guessing that the majority of sports venues have sold naming rights to a corporation. Thus the stadium where the Patriots play is Gillette (a.k.a., the Razor), not Kraft (after the family that owns them, not the mac and cheese people).

Me, call me a sentimental fool, but I prefer the old time names to the corporates. Give me Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and - yes - even Yankee Stadium any old day. (And was there ever a better name for a baseball park than The Polo Grounds?)

Sports is one thing. Other public spaces are also up for grabs these days.

Adopt a highway, anyone?

And, while the signage is discreet, the Massachusetts State House has (or had - I'm not sure if they're still there) little signs on the front fence telling us who did the plantings.

Now, the state would like to give our august, venerable and quite beautiful State House - designed by Charles Bullfinch - an overhaul, and they're looking for corporate money.

I just hope they don't post little (let alone big) signs all over the place thanking the patrons for their largesse.

Whatever happened to doing something good without demanding recognition for it?

In any case, I thought this was a recent whine until I saw this picture from an 1885 edition of Punch on the incredibly interesting and wonderful Paleo Future blog, which covers futurist predictions over the years (starting in the late nineteenth century, right on up through the 1990's).


In any case, I was highly amused by this old cartoon of the Statue of Liberty tarted up with a bunch of fake advertising signs. (Note the quite prescient ad for "Suredeath Cigarettes" a good 80 years before the Surgeon General's report smoked the tobacco companies out.)

Here's my vote to keep some public spaces unbranded. Some things are sacred.

But the fact that advertising consuming everything was a reasonable fear well over 100 years ago? Plus ├ža change, no?

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