Tuesday, May 13, 2014

These bicycles are brought to you by....

     Here's a contradiction: I love brands but hate branding. 
     Certain products, packing, logos and labels simply have a beauty to them: Heinz ketchup in a glass bottle. The Tabasco sauce label. The Apple iMac. Ketchup in a plain glass bottle would seem generic, wrong.
     Liking the product itself can be secondary; I don't smoke but admire the Lucky Strikes pack.
     But it's somehow different when some non-product is slapped with a logo. A shiver goes down my back when  a heretofore unbranded space become branded. It seems bad, the seizing of public space by private enterprise.  I complained first and loudest that Chicago got nothing for its bike system while New York pried $42 million from CitiBank—hence "Citi Bikes." But now that Blue Cross/Blue Shield has stepped up, almost a year after the Divvy program commenced and is slapping its name on the bikes, well, I'm torn.
    Yes, the $12.5 million is helpful, for more bike stations and bike lanes. A tad more than a quarter of what New York got —we'll try not to think about that.
     But something about it...maybe because Blue Cross/Blue Shield has particularly ugly logos. A stick figure crucified on a crude blue cross, and the snake-on-a-stick caduceus. And what kind of company has two logos? You'd think they'd combine them into one decent logo.
     Maybe it's the year? We've bonded with Divvy, at least I have, and now it's changing. Maybe the change itself is unsettling. The United Center came into the world as the United Center, and therefore seems benign. If it had been the Bulls Center, first, that might have been different. It would be like the parents of a 1-year-old baby announcing that no, he isn't Charlie anymore, he's Ben. It would be weird.
     So maybe it's the retrofitting the brand onto the up-and-running sky blue image of the Divvys that's vexatious. Or it's a reminder that our government is broke and needs to raise cash, and this is how we like to do it. Taxes bad, branding good. So our communal space sells off parts of itself with a whiff of cowardice to boot. Hidden fees, fines, tickets, ads, anything that can't be called a "tax" by a political opponent.
      Maybe the worry is that someday our culture will resemble a NASCAR race car, festooned with sponsors. The bike system now, parks later. At least it's not school buses, not yet. Other places have tried that. Double unsettling, because kids are involved. "Attention class. This restroom break is sponsored by Gatorade..." I suppose we should be lucky it's not currency, not yet. The postal service has already sold off space on stamps to whoever wants it—and the joke is, few do.
     The logo started showing up on bikes last week, cluttered and unbeautiful and unwelcome.
     I suppose we'll get used to them. Or perhaps when the Blue Cross sponsorship is up in 2019, it will pass to other "blue" themed companies. Jet Blue, Blue Moon Brewing, IBM ("Big Blue," remember?).
     Maybe in time it'll even seem natural. The Wrigley Field name is so sacrosanct people forget it's hawking a brand of gum. But it is.


  1. The state of Massachusetts is brought to you by the Massachusetts Bay Company. The state of Virginia is brought to you by the Virginia Company.

    Welcome to America. Stay awhile. Yawn. What's on TV?

    - A. Gold

    1. Considering that Rauner thinks that he has the wisdom to run the state just because he can make money, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that one of his supporters puts in this kind of comment which is factually wrong to boot. Neither state received its name due to corporate sponsorship. Massachusetts comes from a native american word apparently referring to a high hill. Virginia was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I who was known as the "Virgin Queen".

      Regarding the MBC, it was a "shell" which allowed the Puritans to pull a fast one and get a royal charter for their plans to establish a colony overseas. It was never run for profit and the Puritans made sure that they wouldn't be bothered by pesky stockholders by failing to include in the charter the requirement that business meetings would be held in England. Eventually, the budding theocracy went too far and it was taken over by the crown.

      On the other hand, the Virginia Company was in it for the profits which were disappointingly small until sweeter varieties of tobacco were introduced from the Caribbean. Of course, this did not end the general state of mismanagement and the company's charter was later revoked and it became a royal colony. Plus, the stockholders' success gave us the plague of tobacco and made slavery a going concern in what would later become the United States.

      In an era when those with bucks like Rauner think they can buy it all, we've forgotten that buildings and the like were once named to honor those who made some significant difference.

    2. Ok. I was half right. Mr. Graf, may I polish this apple for you?
      How do you explain Illinois salt mine slavery, sponsored by ???
      who was selling salt in 1818? And slavery? The Democrat Party.
      Lincoln was a Republican.

      --A. Gold

    3. Being half right makes you a far better commentator than 99% of all those guys/gals who get paid for speaking their mind on outlets like Fox or MSNBC. Don't worry about the apple but thanks for the thought.

      In terms of my politics, I am far more an Independent than anything else. Obama has been one of the biggest disappointments I've experienced in the more than a few decades I've been voting. I still think he's done a better job than Romney would have in office but I expected so much more.

      I'm not a big fan of Quinn either but having worked for some of America's top companies, it honestly scares me that someone whose experience is in leading a business is going to have on the job training in running a state. It's such a different job description that you're asking for trouble. If you reply that the same could have been said about Obama's qualifications for President, then I would have to say it turns out that you were right.

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to me and I do mean that sincerely.

  2. You forgot about DaVinci's Human in Proportion. The Blue Cross logo is a representation of that. The fact that there are two logos is that it was a merger of two health systems, that were originally run ...like Exxon-Mobil.

  3. I get that. But it's inelegant, like a couple who marries and decides to call their kid Tyler Goldstein-Herskovitz. If they've merged companies, they should merge the logo too.

  4. someone (don't remember who) once said that wrigley field is the essence of cubdom: a ballpark hawking a company and product FOR WHICH THE TEAM DOESN'T GET ANY "NAMING RIGHTS" MONEY! of course, wrigley is also named after the long-time owner, so they can always fall back on that excuse.
    p.s. i still call it "comiskey park," but i'm old.

  5. Maybe in time logos will be as ubiquitous as in the dystopic world of Mike Judge's Idiocracy.



  6. Blue Cross Blue Shield just raised its rates by 12.4 percent in one year here in Hawaii...and we don't even get soon to be rusted bicycles. It must be a plot by the insurance co. to get people injured--I don't see a branded helmet with the China-built pedal-powerers. Another Republican plot. Kill off the Greenie types in bike lanes as they abstain from Big Oil. Can't wait until a thousand or two go missing.

    --H. Ula


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