Firetrucks should have corporate sponsors

NASCAR is a sport in which drivers in sticker-covered cars race around tracks, making, for the most part, left turns. It is a silly sport, but there is a good idea hidden among those gaudy stickers. You see, the ridiculous-looking cars advertising all sorts of knick-knacks and goods are the reason NASCAR teams make as much money as they do. Plenty of companies pay to put ads on race cars because of the sport’s audience (approximately 3.3 million viewers per race) and positive association (Forbes, “NASCAR Fans Are Changing The Way They Watch Races,” 03.01.2019).

What if I told you that there is a similar mutually beneficial relationship overlooked by organizations across the country? Picture a world where firetrucks all over the nation are covered with stickers, working as mobile billboards for everything from Skittles to IKEA. Fire departments from coast to coast would suddenly have larger budgets from ad revenue with no resources expended nor additional work undertaken. This translates to higher pay and superior equipment for firefighters.

Why would companies sponsor fire departments in particular? A few reasons. Firefighters historically have a great reputation. Nurses have won Gallup’s Ethics and Honesty in Professions poll 17 years running. The last time they didn’t win? When firefighters were included and took the top spot (Gallup, “Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics,” 12.20.2018). Firefighters have the reputational capital that companies look for when deciding what to sponsor. They also have a considerable presence nationwide, with fire departments in both every metro center and almost every little hamlet you can imagine. Not to mention that firetrucks are much bigger than race cars and sit in one location for long periods of time. For goodness’ sake, they’re bright red and covered in flashing lights. They have sirens. What more could you possibly want out of an advertisement? It’s the real-life version of an ad that autoplays in your browser, but you couldn’t even be mad about it because they’d be out there saving lives. Plus, when the fire department benefits without having to do anything other than wear a silly costume on their truck, the entire community reaps the reward.

Over a six-year period, Farmers Insurance was willing to pay approximately $11 million a year to sponsor one race car (Racing News, “NASCAR sponsorship costs (details),” 10.18.2018). Imagine how many companies of comparable size to Farmers Insurance exist. If even half of them invested in a sponsored firetruck scheme, millions of dollars would appear like magic in the hands of fire departments. Sure, I admit that some of this money will obviously be misused—firefighters are humans after all—and that thousands of dollars will go towards bonuses for otherwise
undeserving people or spinning rims for the firetruck. But even if that is the case, it can’t possibly all be embezzled. Every dollar that isn’t pocketed will go toward faster and better responses to life-altering disasters.

Companies don’t even need to make room in their budgets for this new expenditure. Just go to your advertisement budget. Stop buying Facebook ads and stop paying for those five seconds of YouTube screen time you get before every single person on earth hits the “skip ad” button. Ditch the billboards that are impossible to read while driving anyway. The TV ad market is shrinking as more people cut the cable and turn to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. Reallocate those dollars to where they can really make a difference.

I admit, there is the potential issue of bad optics. For instance, if the Snickers factory burns down and the fire department is sponsored by Kit Kat, that is quite unseemly, even if it was just a matter of happenstance and not malicious influence on the part of the Kit Kat company. Consequently, it could be convenient to constrain what sort of sponsorships are allowed. This is of course something that can be regulated according to rather broad advertisement laws, so there is plenty of room to restrain the worst impulses of corporate and non-corporate amalgamations like these.

Just think it over, maybe share it with somebody and see how you sit with it. What’s the harm?

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