By Dave Cooper
Much to my surprise, in January the Lexington Herald-Leader published a 700-word op-ed that I wrote that was harshly critical of the advertising industry.
My op-ed was basically a rant about how much I dislike the new electronic “ribbon board” advertising display inside Commonwealth Stadium. For those who have not yet seen this high-tech monstrosity, it is a lighted LED billboard around the fascia of the upper deck of the stadium. This space was previously used to honor famous UK football players and coaches such as Bear Bryant, Art Still, Tim Couch and George Blanda. It was called the “Ring of Honor.”
Well, the Ring of Honor has now been replaced by a ring of advertising for Coca Cola. Former UK running back Mark Higgs has called the ribbon board “terrible, just terrible.” Former UK great Joe Federspiel called it a “slap in the face to the former players.”
What’s worse is that the ribbon board is very distracting when you are trying to concentrate on the game – which is the whole reason that I go to the stadium. I love football. But I certainly don’t go to see the advertising.
The ribbon board flashes continually, and the idiotic messages and corporate logos race around the stadium at high speed. The LED lights are so bright that they hurt your eyes. As I said in my Herald-Leader op-ed, the display is so intense that it actually made me feel nauseous.
I went on to criticize the Kroger Co., McDonalds, cigarette companies, Whitaker Bank, Pepsi, Coca Cola, local car dealerships, gas stations, local radio and TV stations, check cashing stores, and the RJ Corman Railroad Company. Let’s see, did I leave anybody out?
You sometimes hear about the wall that exists between the editorial and business departments of major newspapers, which is supposed to keep the business side from influencing editorial content. My op-ed surely annoyed some of the Herald-Leader’s big advertisers, such as Kroger and UK, and maybe made it a little more difficult for the paper to sell advertising space. So I give a lot of credit to the Herald-Leader for printing my screed. Many papers would not have published it.
Hard times for hard news
Times are tough in the print media business. Advertising revenue is way down as advertising dollars have migrated to the web and other outlets like outdoor advertising. The Herald-Leader is doing its best to stay in business, but it’s still painful to see advertising on the front page. First they had those little sticky notes—I always made a mental note not to patronize any of the companies that used this form of advertising. Lately I’ve noticed that the advertisements on the bottom of the front page are gaining in height and slowly creeping up the page. I wonder how long it will be until they reach the fold.
And the Herald-Leader – my beloved hometown paper – is now accepting advertising from some pretty dubious companies, such as the ones that claim their electric space heaters are hand made by the Amish inside wooden barns. Or the companies selling weight loss and arthritis cures. This is the type of advertising I expect to see in the National Enquirer. But times are tough and the Herald-Leader has already made so many personnel cuts, they are practically operating on a skeleton crew. Some really good people have been laid off. It’s very sad.
Some major city newspapers, like the Times Picayune in New Orleans – a proud old institution – don’t even publish a daily paper anymore. And the Detroit Free Press will only deliver a paper to your home on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Are we in danger of losing our hometown newspaper? And if we did, can you imagine what shenanigans would go on in Frankfort without the Herald-Leader and the Courier Journal there to keep a watchful eye on the General Assembly? Citizens—even determined activists—can’t do this well. Even the best Kentucky bloggers can’t begin to have the impact of one of Joel Pett’s devastating cartoons.
An all-out campaign
So here is my proposal to help keep our beloved Kentucky newspapers financially sound: an all-out citizen campaign against cheap, ugly outdoor advertising. This campaign will also encourage local companies to spend their advertising dollars on print media instead of outdoor advertising.
For example, look at New Circle Road. A popular new form of outdoor advertising appears to be 10-foot tall vertical flags. They are sprouting up like daffodils. Yesterday between Lexmark and Winchester Road, I counted 90 of these hideous flags on the inside of New Circle, and 46 on the outside. The clever advertising messages say “Sale” and “We Buy Gold” and “Buy Here Pay Here.” The worst spot is in front of the old K Mart. Oddly, the scrap metal people around town have not yet figured out that it’s very easy to pull the metal flag poles out of the ground.
Another form of outdoor advertising which should be outlawed immediately is the “tube dancer.” I have never seen anything so stupid in my life. These are the horrid brightly colored and fan-powered men that are often found in front of used car lots and check cashing stores. They go “whoop” up and down, and they wave their arms as you drive by. Tube dancers can be easily and permanently disabled with a pen knife or a box cutter.
Finally, the Cordex sign: the cigarette and beer and soda placards strapped to lamp posts in front of convenience stores. They are usually fastened with some mighty zip ties, but a pair of wire cutters will snip right through the zip ties. Those zip ties can be reused if you cut them right, and they are right handy around the house. The placards can be used to make excellent protest signs, or to roof a shed, as a sleeping pad or as an emergency umbrella. I have also even them used for the walls of an outhouse. By duct taping three placards together in a triangle shape, you can make a small pup tent that is waterproof and highly windproof. These are great for the hobo camps along the interstates. Best of all: they are free, and there is an endless supply out there.