Cookie-scented bus stop ads crumble

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Apparently, not everyone enjoys the smell of oven-fresh chocolate chip cookies while waiting for their bus.

Scented adhesive strips, applied to five Muni bus stops to give commuters a smell of homemade cookies as part of a “Got Milk?” ad campaign, were removed after just 36 hours following complaints from residents with health concerns and others, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Representatives from the California Milk Processor Board, which was behind the ads, said complaints were from groups that are trying to ban all public scents, anti-obesity organizations, diabetes organizations and homeless advocates who argued the smell would leave them hungry and unable to purchase food.

“We’re not against chocolate chip cookies and we are not against milk,” said Nathaniel Ford, the executive director of the MTA, which is responsible for selling the ad space at Muni bus shelters. “But in this particular case we didn’t get to fully vet the proposal.”

Peter Mezey, a member of the MTA board of directors, said, “Some people are sensitive to it and some people are plain offended.”

The agency did not know about the scent being included with the black “Got Milk?” posters that it approved until the campaign began on Monday. Molly Ireland, a spokeswoman for the California Milk Processor Board, said communication could have been better with the agency.

“We are disappointed because we feel people were happy with the scent and this is something that hasn’t been done before,” she said. “Scent is so personal and emotional and we worked hard to perfect the scent.”

The smell of the $300,000 campaign was supposed to last for one month. It was the first outdoor scent campaign in the United States, according to Ireland. Ford said the MTA will examine whether it will prohibit scented ads in the future or require prior notice.

MTA board member Tom Nolan said he did not want to see the agency “tie our hands” by prohibiting experimental advertising in the future based on this one experience. Ireland said she was happy the campaign at least got a chance because before the cookie-fresh bus stops debuted on Monday, there was some concern over whether the ads would be allowed due to legal issues arising from outdoor scents, she said.

“Overall, it’s been a great learning experience for us [but I am] not sure if we’ll do it again,” she said. “We might decide to push the envelope again because we are always trying to think of new ways for people to think about milk. Besides, it’s white, boring and comes in gallons.”

On Tuesday evening, representatives from the ad agency were pulling down the scented strips from the bus stops as curious riders asked what was going on. Daniel Romotsky said he liked the smell.

“It smells like cookies and it doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure it could bother people who don’t like cookies,” he said. “I could see how it could be invasive.”

How ‘Got Milk?’ turned sour

» Five Muni bus shelters were lined with scented strips to give off the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies.

» The campaign was supposed to last through the month of December.

» It cost $300,000 to outfit the shelters.

» The ads lasted 36 hours before they were pulled down.

» On Monday night, the Municipal Transportation Agency asked the designers of the campaign to take the ads down after receiving complaints.

» The authority received complaints from organizations working on diabetes, asthma and obesity as well as from homeless advocates.

eeconomides@examiner.com

sfarooq@examiner.com

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