| MADRID, June 24
MADRID, June 24 Big business is taking advantage
of recession-hit Spain's hunger for cash, striking advertising
deals for landmarks that have seen a Christopher Columbus statue
dressed in a Barcelona soccer shirt and a metro station named
after a telecoms company.
With local councils and transport authorities across Europe
feeling the squeeze as governments battle to cut deficits, these
deals could be a taste of things to come.
"Advertising seeking controversy isn't anything new ...
what's different here is the inventive ways local authorities
are coming up with to make money," said Manuel Martin,
communication theory professor at Spain's University of Navarra.
Some Conservative politicians in Britain, for example, have
suggested allowing sponsorship of London Underground metro lines
and stations to raise money that could keep down fares.
But allowing brands to associate themselves with public
services and famous places is not without its detractors.
Protest group Ecologists In Action, for instance, says metro
stations should be used to promote cultural activities and that
it is unfair to advertise to consumers where they might not be
able to distinguish between publicity and information.
For supporters, opening up more landmarks to advertising is
a win-win situation at a time when money is tight for both
governments and companies.
Spain is in the grip of a protracted recession that has left
27 percent of the workforce jobless. Many of its 17 autonomous
regions and councils are shouldering large amounts of debt and
most regions - though Madrid is an exception - have been locked
out of debt markets and must seek alternative funding.
For them, new advertising revenues could be a big help.
Barcelona city council received 114,000 euros ($150,200)
from Nike to preview soccer club Barcelona's new shirt
on the 60-metre high statue of Columbus.
In the capital, Vodafone will pay subway company
Metro de Madrid 3 million euros over three years to rename the
station in the historic Sol plaza at kilometre 0 of Spain's road
network and the focal point of anti-government protests. The Sol
station is now called Vodafone-Sol.
Line 2, used by more than 122,000 people every day and which
stops at Sol, will also be renamed Linea 2 Vodafone in
September. It is the first time a company has sponsored an
entire metro line in Europe. New maps of the metro system will
be made and distributed with the new name for the line and
Vodafone will foot the bill.
Metro de Madrid said the money raised would go to improve
service, while the regional government described Madrid's
transport network as "a shopfront for 1.5 billion journeys a
year" and said such advertising campaigns could help fund public
Companies are also looking to save money, and create more of
a buzz when they do spend on advertising.
Consultancy Zenith says firms in Spain are expected to spend
10.9 percent less on publicity this year.
Choosing a controversial location can be money well spent.
Marta Coll, director general at Havas Media's Barcelona
office, which was behind Nike's Columbus campaign, said the
media coverage generated by the stunt was valued at between 7
million and 8 million euros.
Barcelona city council is currently reviewing its urban
landscape regulation, making it unclear whether more such deals
will be permitted. The Columbus promotion was only allowed
because it was for a short period of time and the statue was
being restored, according to the council.
A spokeswoman said while urban planning rules would be
modernised, nothing had been officially decided on advertising.
"The idea first came up seven years ago but the council was
much more restrictive and we weren't allowed to do it. Perhaps
it was because of the current economic crisis and the fact
restoration work was being carried out that they let us do it,"
said Havas Media's Coll.
Vince Mitchell, consumer marketing professor at Cass
Business School in London, said companies would be keen to
strike advertising deals over other landmarks.
"Virtually every other form of advertising is so saturated,
so marketers are constantly looking at new ways to engage
people," he said.
But opponents are vowing to put up a fight.
In Spain, a group called "Cover The Brand" has set up a
website with instructions on what size of paper is needed to
cover the "Vodafone" brand on metro signs and uploads pictures
showing the brand papered over and covered by stickers.
In Barcelona, the council's decision to allow the Columbus
statue to wear the new FC Barcelona shirt also sparked fury at
other clubs in the area, such as Espanyol, whose president
described the move as "the straw that broke the camel's back".