Three controversial ads for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer finished their six-month spot on Madison area buses at the beginning of this month, despite numerous complaints Madison Metro Transit received from community members.
Mick Rusch, Madison Metro spokesperson, said on average, he received a complaint every two weeks during the six-month duration of the ad campaign. The controversial beer ads featured bold ads that made the buses appear, to some people, as a beer truck, Rusch said.
Rusch said Madison Metro did not have Pabst take the ads down, but took the ads down at the end of their six-month lease. He said Madison Metro hired another employee who began taking care of selling the bus ads beginning in January, instead of contracting through an outside agency.
He said the company discussed taking more control of the advertising situation.
“We talked about community awareness of our advertising,” he said. “How do you make advertising that the community finds acceptable”?
Madison Metro has asked alcohol advertisers in the past to remove bold imagery, such as shot glasses and bottles of alcohol, Rusch said. Instead, they ask them to rely more heavily on their logo, he said.
The Pabst Blue Ribbon ads were a product of a contest of the beer company where artists designed them to be bold, Rusch said.
This was the second year Pabst has advertised with Madison Metro, and the ads were more bold this year, he said. Part of the problem is Madison Metro does not control which routes the ads run, he added.
This means the ads ran on routes through the University of Wisconsin campus, the probable target market of the company, but also passed schools, which caused some of the complaints, Rusch said.
“We asked them if we could tone them down a little bit,” Rusch said. “They did tone some things down, but not as much as we would have liked – and that led to the complaints.”
Rusch said now Madison Metro has control of the advertising, they will focus on using local advertisers. Madison Metro’s control and influence of the ads being used have drawn some free speech concerns.
“[PBR's] speech here falls into the category of ‘commercial speech’ – that is, advertising, which is a lesser-protected form of speech that lacks the full-blown free speech protection given other types of legal speech,” UW law professor emeritus Gerald Thain said in an email to The Badger Herald.
This means Madison Metro can modify the ads, or even remove them if they wanted, and this would not raise any First Amendment free speech issues, he said. Thain said commercial speech received no protection until the 1970s when they were given limited protection.
Rusch said Madison Metro will be focusing on catering to more local advertisers. The company was allotted $135,000 at yesterday’s Board of Estimates meeting. The extra money will be used to increase bus service on the University Avenue corridor and extend service to the Owl Creek neighborhood.
He said there is a meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, at 6 p.m.