Town & City Name Sponsorships

I just wrote an article which published at Search Engine Land yesterday on the subject of some innovative and occasionally guerrilla marketing tactics that might be used to display advertising promotion via Google Maps. (See: Six Odd Tactics For Getting Ads Into Google Maps)

One aspect the article touches upon is how some smaller towns and cities might find it attractive to sell the rights to their names in return for sponsor dollars. I find this concept interesting, particularly as many municipalities have begun considering flogging the rights to name all sorts of things from auditoriums to subway stations to city service departments.

In the article I mentioned “DISH, Texas” which sold its name a few years ago to a satellite dish company in return for free satellite TV service for all of its residents. While this is one of the more recent examples of “City Name Sponsorships”, it’s not the first. My coworker, Mike Churchill alerted me to the fact that the small town of “Truth or Consequences, New Mexico” actually changed its name from “Hot Springs” back in 1950 in order to win a radio contest.

Truth or Consequences, NM

The NBC radio program, “Truth or Consequences” offered to broadcast their show from the first town that renamed itself for the show.

In American history, quite a number of towns and cities went through various name transitions over time, but most of these monikers were inspired by people’s names or were descriptive in some way. These days, I suspect that most larger cities would find a lot of resistance to selling off their names — and for well-known cities they’d be losing a lot of “brand equity” if they dropped a well-known name. But, for small towns, there could potentially be a lot of places which might find large corporate investment attractive enough that they could overcome constituents’ resistance to name-change.

Selling a placename is bound to create controversy whenever it happens. Winnipeg’s plans to sell off naming rights on everything from parking meters to bus tickets and even city services has apparently gotten significant criticism.

Kalle Lasn, founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, says selling off naming rights to city services is an example of backward and unimaginative thinking.

“It’s really depressing … They should learn how to be a little bit more innovative. There are ways of cutting back and ways of generating revenue that don’t include selling your soul to corporations.”

(Adbusters is famous for helping promote “Buy Nothing Day” and other anti-commercialism and anti-advertising philosophies.)

Regardless of the controversy, the prospect of abruptly having some saleable assets available is likely to prove too attractive to resist for many city managers during these cash-strapped times. I expect we’ll see some more instances of corporate-sponsored city names appearing in online mapping systems like Google Maps.

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