Cash-hungry states and municipalities, in pursuit of even the smallest amounts of revenue, have begun to exploit one market that they have exclusive control over: their own property.
With the help of a few eager marketing consultants, many governments are peddling the rights to place advertisements in public school cafeterias, on the sides of yellow school buses, in prison holding areas and in the waiting rooms of welfare offices and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The revenue generated by these ads is just a drop in the bucket for states and counties with deficits in the millions or billions of dollars. But supporters say every penny helps.
Still, critics question whether the modest sums are worth further exposing citizens — especially children — to even more commercial pitches.
“I have a 5-year-old who doesn’t understand what ads are,” says Megan Keller, 30, of Provo, Utah, who says her son Collin, a kindergartner, sees seductive posters for sugary cereals every day in the lunchroom of his public school. “I don’t like that he thinks, ‘Oh, this is good because it comes from my school,’ and I’m having to explain to him why that’s not true.”