Imagine being pulled over by a rolling billboard

November 29, 2002

If you still hold onto the illusion that any surface of any physical body is immune from being plastered with advertisements, the news that Hagerstown City Police cars may soon become rolling billboards should be a serious wake-up call.

Hagerstown police are considering an offer from a North Carolina firm, which says it will sell a fleet of cruisers to the department for the token sum of $1 if the city allows them to carry ads.

How great is that? Squad car comes to your house and you don't know whether it's the police or Mark Martin.

Personally, I can't wait to see the first black-and-white with "Hooters" printed on the side. It could send some mixed messages though, if a guy gets pulled over for drunken driving by a police car with a big Budweiser logo on the hood.


Unfortunately, that probably won't happen, since the firm says it will avoid ads from enterprises that are "inappropriate for public safety," such as alcohol, tobacco, firearms and gambling. Guns and hooch I can understand, but tobacco? When was the last time anybody got hepped up on Winstons and robbed a convenience store?

And gambling makes no sense, particularly since most public buses would have no ads at all were it not for the state lottery. That's kind of neat when you stop to think about it.

You have one government agency buying ads from a second government agency so people will give more money to the first government agency to once again turn over to the second government agency. Very smart. Seems to me that it would be a lot simpler if instead of buying a lottery ticket, people would just directly take out an ad on a bus.

Ken Allison, president of Government Acquisitions, the firm that wants to do the deal, says it is a big benefit to finance police departments because essentially the department is getting a fleet of free cars. Which is a good deal, provided the cars aren't Chevy Geos.

He also says the company won't accept ads that are potentially embarrassing to police departments. Dunkin' Donuts, for example.

Of course you know who will end up advertising on police cars: Lawyers and bail bondsmen. Cops are gonna love that. Here they go to the good time and trouble to put the bad guys behind bars, and now they're going to have to drive around in cars advertising the trial lawyers who get them out.

Might simplify the Miranda warning though. "You have the right to be represented by an attorney; if you do not have an attorney just dial one of the 18 phone numbers listed on the rocker panel."

For the police officers' sake I hope they get manly ads. Who is going to have the stomach for a hot, tire-squealing pursuit of an armed bandit if the car you're driving says "HUGGIES?" You think Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry would have stood for a big ad on his trunk for L'Eggs panty hose?

The TV networks are probably going to want to get in on the act, so to speak, by previewing their fall lineups of "Law and Order" or "NYPD Blue." I don't know whether they advertise silent movie reproductions; it wouldn't be a confidence builder to dial 9-1-1 and see a cruiser pull up that says "Keystone Cops."

I only pray that police cars are just the beginning, and here I am thinking specifically of a school bus pulling up to the stop with an advertisement for Happy Family brand Kentucky bourbon or the latest Eminem CD. What the heck, Coke is already the official sponsor of Clear Spring High School and besides, yellow on a school bus is so cliche.

Face it, pretty soon we're all going to have advertisements on our bedsheets, so we might as well get used to it now.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

The Herald-Mail Articles