Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg held a news conference on September 9th
which was described by the New York Post this way: "Looking more like a
pitchman than a politician, the mayor bought an orange-mango juice drink
from a Snapple machine, opened it and took a sip."
In so doing, the Mayor's common sense snapped, as he committed New
York City unilaterally to naming Snapple as the official water, juice
and iced tea provider for the nation's largest metropolis. The
elaborate five-year agreement -- not publically available -- transferred
$166 million from Snapple to the City in return for exclusive selling
rights of these and other products in the public schools and public
buildings. Snapple's logo is to go on ferries and garbage cans.
About forty million dollars of this sum would go to the Schools and
the rest to the city's general budget. Snapple won the selection
contest over seven other beverage sellers which the Mayor refused to name.
The City's chief marketing officer (that's his title) said that the
Snapple agreement was both "relevant" and "tasteful". The Mayor flagged
the future of selling New York City without asking its citizens: "This
agreement is the first in a limited number of high-quality partnerships
that we think will greatly enhance our efforts to promote and market New
York City," he enthused.
Old-timers years ago would have wondered what the Mayor means by
marketing New York City. Cities were viewed more benignly when they
were more livable, more employable at good wages, more replete with
public institutions like good libraries, good public transit, good
schools, good hospitals and clinics and good recreational facilities in
the neighborhoods. New York City is crumbling on these measurements.
Its officials, including the Mayor, cannot even protect its poor
children from the chronic, brain and body damaging lead-based paint
poisoning in ageing tenements. But he can provide them with Snapple
drinks of dubious nutritional quality and water in the vending
machines. Water??? New York City has regularly tested as delivering
about the finest water of any city in the country, according to
Consumers Union. The schools' water coolers dispense it.
Obviously in this age of over-weening corporate commercialism and
the placement of their executives in public office, marketing New York
City means partnerships that promote products. What's next? Mayor
Bloomberg isn't saying. Let's guess. Will New York City have its
official cars, sports equipment, jeans, sneakers, computers, colas, hot
dogs, pens and cereal? And what intriguing new areas for corporate
logos will be made available? In his fervent quest for budget dollars
(never mind the massive tax abatements the City has given to
corporations), Mayor Bloomberg might want to make City Hall and his own
backside available. Imagine what price a huge banner for GM or Apple
Computer in front of City Hall will fetch year after year?
Unlike his uncanny ability to think through the demand for financial
information that marked the rise of his Bloomberg communications Empire,
the Mayor has not thought through the slippery slope that the City is
Giving a company a monopoly over certain products sold to the City
means preventing better products from superior competitors coming along
to demonstrate what free enterprise means. What will happen if your
designated monopolist -- say Snapple -- or its parent conglomerate
Cadbury-Schweppes (a British company) gets into trouble with the law --
a criminal conviction, an Enron type scandal, a covered-up product
defect? Does thesecret agreement with Snapple have an "out" clause?
Who pays to remove the stigmatized company logos and signs all over the
What happens when the City government is wrestling with a policy
that affects vending machine products? Will Snapple appear to have
special influence in the Mayor's administration? Will the Mayor avoid
doing the right thing for consumers because of some provision in the
Snapple agreement that immunizes the company from some later public policy?
Already, the Snapple deal is making otherwise adult politicians look
foolish. Mayor Bloomberg, according to the New York Times, announced
the agreement "on the athletic field at John F. Kennedy High School in
the Bronx, with a bright-orange Snapple vending machine and the high
school's football team standing behind him." The Mayor said: "Given
the global popularity of Snapple products, this will present the city
with countless new opportunities to make positive impressions on people
around the world" So reassuring!
What happens when people and students take issue, as they surely
will, with Snapple's president's blanket statement that "New York City
loves Snapple," and start rebelling against this fiat by City Hall,
start wearing t-Shirts in school saying awful things about Snapple,
boycotting the products, examining the contents of the drinks and
showing that commercialism and public government do not mix. Who will
Mayor Bloomberg's props be then?
For more information, log onto www.commercialalert.org.