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In the Name of Profits

April 20, 2002

Media-savvy youngsters tend to ignore traditional advertising, so marketers always are on the prowl for new gimmicks. The hip skateboarding apparel company Etnies hit the jackpot in Lake Forest, where it bought the naming rights to a planned municipal skate park. This will, among other things, put Etnies' name on the lips of hundreds of youngsters--as in "meet you at Etnies after school." This deal, however, is out of bounds in taking a straight marketing shot at children in a public park.

The Orange County city got a paltry $100,000 from Etnies, 10% of the cost of the park. That's pocket change in a world where Coors will spend a reported $300 million to join the NFL's advertising team. Selling beer to adults, though, isn't the same as using a city park to make a sales pitch to young skateboarders. Etnies is also selling its T-shirts on the city Web site (albeit with profits going to the skate park) and negotiated exclusive use of the public park on certain occasions.

Cash-strapped local governments and organizations have taken eagerly to the "if we build it, they will sponsor it" mentality. The rush to generate sponsorships stretches from the Rose Bowl, now scrambling to find a corporate replacement for AT&T, to Hollywood, where athletic shoe maker Vans Inc. financed "Dogtown and Z Boys," a critically acclaimed skateboarding documentary.

Lake Forest, however, should have followed the lead of San Clemente, which named a park after a slain policeman and used a modest sign to acknowledge a $100,000 corporate donation for an accompanying skate park. In the words of a San Clemente official, "Lake Forest sold out." The best deterrent to a repeat would be for skateboarders to see Etnies as part of the establishment, and thus anathema.

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