Selling a City's Soul - for Chicken Scratch

Fire hydrants deserve more respect. They are utilitarian and
ubiquitous icons of America's urban landscape, yet they're rarely
noticed by anyone but dogs - who give them no respect whatsoever. Now,
though, a brand-name corporation has noticed that these pieces of our
public infrastructure are everywhere, and, like a dog, it wants to lift
its leg on them!

the fast-food chicken chain owned by a global conglomerate named Yum
Brands, is in search of fire hydrants it can use to "mark its
territory." In particular, the corporation wants to spray hydrants in
various cities with its logo.

Welcome to the latest reach by commercial hucksters to cover every square inch of America the Beautiful with ads.

Indianapolis is the first city to allow KFC to whiz on its hydrants. The company has
plastered the city's stumpy water taps with the KFC logo, plus a
smiling photo of corporate founder Colonel Sanders and a slogan
promoting the chain's new "fiery" grilled chicken wings.

Get it? "Fiery" and fire hydrant. It's symbolism, see? Advert-types are nothing if not clever.

Of course, there's another symbolic connection that the clever ad
concocters hope the public doesn't make. As noted in a blog called "The biggest killer of firefighters today is
heart disease and heart attacks. Great idea to advertise fast food on fire equipment."

Well, picky-picky, say KFC honchos, who are certain that this
promotion will be a big plus for them. Indeed, they insist that the
company's graffiti is not just another act of crass commercialism, or
an unseemly usurpation of public property, but - get this - a
philanthropic contribution to the community! Corporate executives
assured the Indianapolis mayor and other officials that the company is
so concerned about fire safety in the city during these days of budget
stress that they decided to step up as fine corporate citizens and do
their part.

Pay more taxes, perhaps? Good grief, no - get out of here!

Rather, they magnanimously offered to "contribute" some money to help pay for new fire hydrants.

In exchange, the grateful city officials
would need to do nothing - just allow the corporation to use the
hydrants as its own little billboards around town. "Helping
communities," explains a KFC vice president, is our goal. In turn, he
adds, the gesture will "help us in terms of creating goodwill with

Really? Do these executives actually believe that spraying people's
fire hydrants with self-serving ads will make local folks feel good
about a chicken chain?

That delusion aside, let's probe the terms of the deal. Exactly how
magnanimous was KFC in its philanthropic gesture to help provide fire
safety for Indy citizens? Get ready to be astounded: $5,000.

That's it! KFC reaps a PR bonanza (not only getting promotional use
of the hydrants, but also a photo op featuring the mayor and fire chief
meeting with an actor dressed up as Colonel Sanders). All this for what
amounts to chicken feed. This is a city with a $1.2 billion annual
operating budget - what's a measly $5K going to do? Well, retorted a
spokeswoman for the mayor, "it's offsetting some of our budget costs."

Question: How many fire hydrants will $5,000 buy? Answer: Two.

In fact, rather than blowing KFC's paltry bit of philanthropy on a
couple of hydrants, officials bought 33 fire extinguishers for
recreation centers in city parks. And, yes, KFC got its logo and
"fiery" wings promo on each of those extinguishers.

Lest you snicker at how easy it was for KFC to roll Indianapolis
officials, be warned that the chicken purveyor is now waving $5,000 at
your mayor, too. In a nationwide email to mayors, KFC is seeking three
more cities that will do the same deal with their fire hydrants.

I realize that cities everywhere are financially squeezed, and it
must be tempting for mayors to grab at any sort of quick fix. But, come
on - if you're going to sell your city's soul to corporate hucksters,
sell it for more than a nickel.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Jim Hightower