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Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, councilor Doug Ford are considering a controversial plan to sell naming and branding rights to public spaces around the city of Toronto. According to Mayor Ford “any city property, except City Hall, should be open as a way to generate cash.”
Recently, John Miziolek from Toronto branding agency Reset Branding was asked to comment on this initiative by Matt Galloway from CBC Radio 1’s morning show “Metro Morning”.
Civic Branding is typically an external initiative meant to attract tourists, innovation and education leaders and permanent residents. But in Toronto’s example, it is an internally focused initiative meant to generate cash for a large deficit. The question on the minds of most Torontonians is “where do we draw the line?” Toronto residents should have the opportunity to go the park with their families and not be inundated with corporate branding and advertising. These public spaces are expected to be the one place where you can escape the overt advertisements and simply enjoy the city. Ensuring that these parks and other public facilities are maintained is the city’s responsibility as the residents of Toronto have, in theory, already paid taxes for this. The bigger concern here is the size of the deficit and that the taxes being collected are not enough to cover the basic maintenance requirements of the city’s public spaces.
From a branding perspective we counsel clients on brand-building initiatives like exposure, consistency and association. The basic branding fundamentals; consistently communicate your brand across as many touchpoints as possible over a specified period of time. So what’s the harm in having a plaque at the park that says “sponsored by Kraft”? Firstly, there are concerns around liability. Who is responsible if a child falls at the playground and hurts themselves? Is it the city’s responsibility or the corporation’s? Second, what do you say to taxpayers who have contributed millions to the city fund and have outdated, dangerous equipment in some of these public spaces? Thirdly, no one believes the initiative will stop a simple plaque. The need to generate revenue is simply too high to ignore the requests from corporations for LCD screens, billboards, signage and other advertising vehicles.
How much revenue can be generated by this type of initiative? Hundreds of millions. Just the kind of cash infusion the city of Toronto needs. But at what cost? Where will we draw the line and step up to protect the spaces that have made Toronto the city we know and love?