2007_02_geicobridge.jpgThere's an interesting NY Times New York region op-ed that's supportive of marketing ventures most anywhere, like Geico's unsuccessful George Washington Bridge toll plaza marketing deal.

Titled "The Bridge to Prosperity," the op-ed written by Paco Underhill discusses how corporate sponsorships have long existed in philanthropy, such as the Metropolitan Opera selling naming rights to seats, and even civic institutions are working with corporations (think about the city's own Snapple deal) to make more money. Net net: Marketing is here to stay, so why freak out so much?

The last line of Underhill's op-ed reads, "Faced with the choice of looking at a cute lizard or paying an extra 25 cents to cross a bridge, what would you choose? If not Geico, another company will gladly fill the space." Which would compel most people to nod their heads and say, "Hey, I can deal with a lizard - especially a cute one - at the toll plaza!"

But there's a BUT. Underhill's credit line on the op-ed reveals, "Paco Underhill, a geographer, is the author of 'Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.'" So most people reading the story might think, oh, that's nice, a geographer with a knowledge of consumer behavior wrote this. 2007_02_pacounder.jpgBut nowhere in the op-ed does it disclose that Underhill is the founder, CEO, and president of Envirosell, a "behavioral market research and consulting company" that is a "testing agency for Fortune 500 banks, stores, restaurant chains and consumer product companies."

So when Underhill writes, "And for that matter, why were Chase and Commerce Bank recently chastised for projecting advertising onto the sidewalks outside their city branches? Shouldn’t we applaud these companies for their creativity and bill them for the use of public space?" there's no mention or disclosure that one of his clients is in fact Chase. Could it be that geographer is less biased while geographer with marketing consulting company is not?

Gothamist has read "Why We Buy" and highly recommend to everyone it because it shows how fine-tuned observations can lead to better shopping experiences (which any and every company wants). We think Underhill is a smart guy, but we question why he and/or the Times didn't mention his possible other motives for writing the piece.

And about the Geico gecko not appearing at the GWB: While some preservationists were against the Geico-GWB sponsorship, the deal was quashed because there was concern that Geico's $3.2 million offer was too low and that the Port Authority didn't consult with the proper state authorities to discuss the deal, suggesting that future sponsorships may not be out of the question.