Thursday, August 8, 1996
The world is becoming one big billboard

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Don't let me spoil the party. Heaven knows there's nothing more American than selling the fleas off a hound if you can get somebody to pay your price. And anything that helps defray the cost of a college education is good news in my book.

So I am not complaining about this. Just noticing.

Northern Kentucky University has announced a 10-year, $2.5 million partnership with Coca-Cola. This means that the official drink of this worthy institution is now exclusively Coca-Cola.

Right away, I pictured some poor little geek who hasn't gotten the official drink memo strolling along the campus in broad daylight. Drinking a Dr Pepper.

Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. Sirens and a bullhorn. ''I'm going to have to ask you to pull over, sir. There appears to be a drink violation.'' Then several burly, uniformed campus cops would hose down the offender with Classic Coke and take away his parking permit.

A win-win plan

Now, of course, it is still legal to swig the soft drink of your choice on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. You can even drink Pepsi if you are some sort of beverage rebel. You just have to bring your own supply. Coke will be paying NKU $200,000 per year to make sure that it's pretty hard to find anything else.

The University of Cincinnati has a similar deal with Pepsi, which pays $375,000 a year for vending machines, fountains and signage. It's called pouring rights.

''It would be nice if we didn't have to resort to using commercial-type things for these endeavors,'' said Jack Moreland, NKU's interim president, ''but in the real world, sponsorship is a fact of life.''

So it is probably only a matter of time until we rent out every available space on the planet to companies who are willing to pay the freight. Look for Ensure or Sustacal to bid for the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community. The Junior League will sell pouring rights to Folgers, and somebody will have the exclusive white wine and brie concession in the arts community.

The thing is, all this official drinking and splashing product names all over everything seems to work. When supermarkets in the South started selling off floor tiles to advertisers, those products increased in sales by as much as 30 percent. I just don't understand why.

So I called Dale Brown, president of Sive-Young & Rubicam advertising agency. We've been friends long enough for her to expect peculiar and impolite questions from me. Besides, she takes my calls. I like that in a big shot.

Typically gracious, she explained that before you can get somebody to buy things from you, they have to have heard of you. ''You have to build awareness,'' is how she put it.

Well, I was already aware of the existence of Coca-Cola and Budweiser and Jockey underwear and Delta Air Lines.

''Awareness quickly erodes'' was how she put it.

So, if you're tired of seeing commercial spoor everywhere you look, you have nobody to blame but your own short attention span. And nobody to thank but the companies who are willing to pay for the privilege of nudging you in their direction.

Prime barf bag space

It's everywhere. There are even ads in the stalls of public restrooms. They are, thank goodness, for products unrelated to the venue. Although I think Pepto-Bismol is probably missing a bet. It should rent the space on the inside bottom of airline barf bags. That way, when you have to stick your head in one, you could be greeted by ''Feeling bad? We can help.''

It's not enough that grocery stores now have ads on their carts and on the register receipts. Winn-Dixie is selling its floor tiles for $75 per tile per store per month. So far, the company has no plans to start selling them in its Thriftway stores here, according to Nelson Rodenmayer, marketing director.

''But we are always looking,'' he said, ''for new and innovative ways to bring better prices to our customers.''

And we customers are eternally grateful for your consideration. So, it's not that I'm complaining that the world has become a gigantic billboard.

I'm just noticing. Aren't you?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.