Beer ads on Metro buses prompt policy changes

Some people concerned about subject matter of ads on city buses
Beer ads on Metro buses prompt policy changes

Beer cans printed on a piece of vinyl wrapped around city buses are advertisements getting a lot of attention.

On the WISC-TV/Channel 3000 Facebook page, Tina D’Orazio asked, “There is already too much drinking in this state. Why do we have to promote more?”

While Jeff Schoonover wrote, “What’s the big deal? It brings in revenue for the city.”

The controversy is prompting Madison Metro Transit to make policy changes. But it will have to work around the First Amendment because beer ads have every right to be on buses.

“I definitely noticed it. I mean, it stood out compared to the other bus advertisements,” said one city bus rider.

The ads cost upwards of $6,000 to make and another $3,000 to put on the prime bus spot for a months time. Pabst Blue Ribbon bought three, nearly just as many as last year.

“People did see them, but they weren’t really as intense as they are this year, and we didn’t have any calls last year,” said Mick Rusch, marketing and customer services manager for Metro Transit.

This time, Rusch reported 10 callers concerned with the subject matter on buses that can drive students to school and around a state with a documented drinking reputation. But the beer ads can’t be banned.

“We were very limited, based on our policy, to prohibit certain types of advertising because it’s a public forum and there are First Amendment concerns to that,” explained Adam Woulf, Madison’s alcohol policy coordinator.

Only vulgar and offensive ads can be cut. So, Metro Transit is making a change.

“We just think we need more control and some oversight over this process so we can navigate that slippery slope and improve this program moving forward,” Rusch said.

He said he will hire an in-house advertising program director versus the current third-party company to make decisions that should better affect the city.

Another bus rider said, “Advertisements on a city bus is money toward the city, so I guess it’s not entirely a bad thing.”

Metro Transit makes about $450,000 a year off advertising that winds up in its operating budget. As for the PBR ads, the business paid for five months worth and the ads will be on the buses through December.