Friday, March 23, 2007

Pregnant? Scared? Welcome to North Adams!

Have you noticed, when you drive into North Adams, that almost all of the billboards are Ad Council offerings? Coming in on Route 2 from Boston, we have long been welcomed by this billboard. Of course, it’s a good thing that pregnant single women have places to get counseling (although as I understand it, most such counseling places have one agenda or the other with respect to abortion), but is it good for North Adams that this is the first big sign one sees upon entering the city?

As it happens, that particular billboard has now been replaced by the “asthmatic fish,” which while useless at telling us anything we didn’t know about asthma, at least doesn’t make us look like victims of dysfunction in need of counseling. On that score, other recent billboards have urged us to personally not engage in gun violence (“when you do a gun crime, your whole family serves time with you” or some such), to talk with our 8-year-old (or thereabouts) child about drinking alcohol, not to scream at or beat our spouse in the presence of our pre-school daughter, and to contact Joe Kennedy 4 cheap Oil (not sure if this last one is a freebie).

As I understand it, advertisers give space (or TV time) to the Ad Council when they couldn’t otherwise sell the space to a paying client. So, as would probably be apparent to many people, an Ad Council ad is always evidence of a moribund commercial market. Making the ads so pathos-invoking is just icing on the cake, so that everyone who is moving to (or opening a business in) the area, will feel like slitting his wrists.

The few commercial billboard ads don’t do too much to counter this notion. Apart from area banks and a couple restaurants, we see mostly ads for liquor (what the hell does “New Green in the Hizzy” mean in conjunction with Teapartay, anyway?), and in the summer for cultural festivals as far afield as Manchester, Vermont, but rarely for those in our own area.

Obviously the owners of the billboards are getting little or no rent from them, but they at least are expressing some hope for the future, in that they are paying to keep them up at a loss, rather than tearing them down or seeking to donate them. Still, the billboards can’t be worth much to them. Perhaps some of the people spending money and time designing ways of improving the local image can buy up the billboards, to use or even tear down, or at least rent them to advertise local events, such as art exhibits at MOCA and the Clark (they did a few last summer), or to promote MCLA or such events as the Adams Fair.

I can’t complain that such moneys aren’t being spent, since I’m not exactly ready to step up to the plate, but in the absence of such sums, couldn’t the owners of the billboards at least donate their space to local events and nonprofits, rather than making them icons of desperation?


Southview said...

I agree, they are an eye sore that could be put to better use than advertising bull shit. They are a great medium for advertising by just the fact that they are so visible. The local towns should purchase them and use them to advertise their attractions.

Anonymous said...

north adams should take them by eminent domain and sell them or sell the advertising space to local real estate developers who can advertise artists lofts and what not.

DWPittelli said...

I suppose, after the infamous decision Kelo v. City of New London (2005), that they could legally get away with such a forced purchase. But even though I would applaud the result in this case, I personally hope that the political cost of such statism would be prohibitive.

Anonymous said...

like barrett has anything to worry about. he could piss on the flowers on main street and people wouldn't care (except for the usual crazies, er i mean suspects).

Ali B. said...

I forget how long you guys have lived here, but the billboards used to be locally owned (by Mick Callahan), and he made billboards very affordable for nonprofits. At the time, you'd see lots of billboards - for things like Big Brother Big Sister events, I think, and the hospital, and MASS MoCA, and other such things. It was a policy that made sense for the community, since so many of the organizations here are nonprofit. Then the company sold, and they upped the rates for nonprofits, and guess what? You don't see those ads anymore. So it's just a waste of space (that Little Mermaid one that talks about how important the oceans are and how we should keep 'em clean? what's the point out here?). Seems like everyone's loss.

DWPittelli said...

I think Lamar owns most of them now, as I recall the signs at the bottom. According to

"Founded in 1902, Lamar currently operates more than 150 outdoor advertising companies in more than 40 states and Puerto Rico. Lamar operates more than 149,000 billboards and has more than 75 transit franchises that reach driving audiences in 18 states and two provinces through displays on bus shelters, benches and buses. With 97,500 logo sign displays, Lamar is also the nation's leader in the highway logo sign business, with operations in 19 of the 25 states that have privatized their logo programs as well as in the province of Ontario, Canada."