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Tram wraps denied, but MGH will press Old Bay in resort ads

(March 29, 2013) Although the city has decided not to accept a proposal to swaddle its trams in Old Bay ad copy, the agency for the purveyor of America’s favorite crustacean garnish – and happens to be the city’s own marketing contractor – will be pressing forward with an increased advertising presence in the resort area.

“We were disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Andy Malis, president of MGH Advertising. “There are a bunch of different things that they [McCormick & Co.] are going to be doing in town to promote Old Bay.”

Two weeks ago, the City Council was presented with an unsolicited plan to increase the scope of its transit advertising. Direct Media, the contractor who sells advertising space on transportation equipment on the city’s behalf, requested the change to its contract in response to interest in buying full-body advertising wraps for the trucks that pull the Boardwalk tram cars.

Although some elected officials seemed supportive of the idea in principle, there was some unease as to the proper value of a product that had never been bid competitively. The council decided to go back to the table to negotiate a more comprehensive pricing structure, but those discussions between the city and its advertising contractors apparently proved unfruitful.

Currently, the trucks that pull the tram cars feature no advertising. The roofs of the towed passenger cars do have ads, to be viewed by ocean-side hotel patrons. The city’s fleet of buses features full-body advertising graphics, which is what McCormick would like to purchase for the tram trucks.

The city’s contract with Direct Media presently does not solicit such advertising on the tram trucks, but could be amended to include such.

Although MGH already works with the city, with a budget of more than $4 million, to coordinate its advertising to visitors outside the resort, Direct Media’s contract meant that MGH was unable to do internal transit marketing on its own accord.

“We approached them because they’re the only ones allowed to sell the space,” Malis said.

MGH’s offer to Direct Media was $24,000 for the 110 calendar days that the tram operates. Under the contract it has with Direct Media, the city receives a 60 percent profit share of the proceeds, which would be $14,400.

This pricing is similar to that seen for the city’s bus wraps. But there was debate on the council as to how much more exposure – and how much added monetary value – the tram wraps offered over their bus counterparts. Given that the trams move much slower, and tend to stand out to the Boardwalk’s even slower-moving pedestrian audience, the consensus seemed to be that their advertising value was greater.

“I’m not sure that Direct Media shouldn’t have come to us first to discuss what the value of that would be before they moved in that direction [to establish a price with MGH],” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “Really, they’ve come to us with the proposal. I’m not sure that the revenue equals the exposure.”

There was also some question as to whether such heavy branding would benefit the resort’s image.

“I know that this is part of an overall advertising plan for Old Bay in our area that will bring even more ‘talk’ [to the resort],” said Council Secretary Mary Knight. “It is a revenue source … Old Bay is very significant in this area. It’s an extremely well-known brand.”

However, city Public Works Director Hal Adkins noted that the contract for transit advertising will be coming up for bid again after this summer, at which time it would be easy for the city to add tram wraps into the agreement.

“Direct Media may get it again, I don’t know, but I would expect any enhancements to the product they’re allowed to sell would be discussed with whoever gets the contract,” Adkins said.

In the mean time, Malis said that he is continuing with a large-scale marketing plan for Old Bay in the resort area, which is likely to be rolled out to the public soon.

“I think we’re about a week away from getting all the approvals through [from McCormick],” Malis said.


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