This Town Wasn't For Sale

French actress Isabelle Huppert arrives for the premiere of the film "White Material," Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009. Huppert plays a plantation owner in an unnamed African country torn by rebellion who refuses to abandon her land, despite the dangers to her family.
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Corporate America and advertisers have gone too far. Again. The California Milk Processor Board has tried to get a small town in California to change its name from Biggs, California to "Got Milk? California." The Biggs City Council turned down the proposal. Fortunately, the townspeople didn't want their kids to go to "Got Milk? High School."

Biggs wasn't the only town contacted by the milk people. They asked 24 small California towns, and Biggs was the only one that even responded to the offer. But I don't think we've heard the last of this new ridiculous kind of advertising.

There are some towns and cities that already have the same names as products. There are the car names of Lincoln, Pontiac, and Plymouth. I'm sure their city treasuries could all increase by a few bucks if they just became sponsors of these cars. Hoover, Alabama's welcoming billboard could sport a huge picture of a vacuum cleaner. Sandwich, Massachusetts, and Wiener, Arkansas, could advertise those foods. McDonald, Pennsylvania, could install Golden Arches at City Hall, and Land O'Lakes, Florida, could have a statue of a stick of butter in the town square.

There are other places whose names would only have to be changed slightly to make sponsors happy. Maybe one day, there will be a mayor named Daley presiding over "Chicago Style Pizza, Illinois." Maybe we'll have "Omaha Steaks, Nebraska" and "Boston Clam Chowder, Massachusetts." You'd barely have to redesign the names on the city halls to have "Denver Omelet, Colorado," "Cleveland Golf Clubs, Ohio," "Mobile Gas, Alabama," and "Buffalo Wings, New York." ("Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic, Pennsylvania," and "Walla Walla Carpeting, Washington" would be more of a stretch).

Advertising executives will probably jump at the chance to sign up other places as town sponsors whose names suggest a product. Hot Coffee, Mississippi, and Beersville, Pennsylvania, are naturals. Viagra could have its choice of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, or Horneytown, North Carolina.

But the milk board wasn't just trying to change the name of a small town so that it would sound like a product. It was trying to change the name of a small town to a slogan for a product. So, someday we might be driving across the country and see places like "Obey Your Thirst, Arizona," or "Just Do It, Kansas," or "Don't Squeeze The Charmin, New Hampshire."

Small towns comprise the America of movies, books, and dreams. We tend to idealize these places, and we mourn them when they pass away or are absorbed by big cities. Their names should be sacred. Songs have been written about them. I don't want to see (or hear) the rhyme from "Route 66" — "Flagstaff, Arizona, Don't Forget Winona" — replaced by something like, "Flagstaff, Arizona, Be Sure To Buy A Toyota." Do you?

There is just too much advertising today. Earlier this year, I bemoaned the fact that so many ballparks have corporate sponsors now. So do bowl games. Tennis players are walking billboards. You couldn't watch a single pitch of this year's World Series without being assaulted by advertising for the Fox Network. Buses and cabs are painted with ads. The Olympics have "official" batteries, soft drinks, and credit cards.

So, for many of us, the only escape from being bombarded by commercials is to hop in the car and drive as far away from big cities and television sets as possible. Only in the pristine countryside can we find refuge from saturation advertisement. So, to all the big corporations and ad agencies in America, I have a fervent plea: Don't ever make us drive through a place like, "Strong Enough For A Man, But PH-Balanced for a Woman, Texas." It just wouldn't be right.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver