Ocean City Ends Soft Drink Logo On Water Tower Talk

Ocean City Ends Soft Drink Logo On Water Tower Talk
A rendering shows a proposed Coca-Cola logo placed on the existing water tower near the Route 90 bridge. Submitted Image

OCEAN CITY — Having a Coca-Cola logo on the town’s water tower near the Route 90 Bridge will not become a reality after a divided council called the idea a “sell-out” and nixed the concept this week.

In September, town officials renewed the beverage contract with Coca-Cola, making it the official soft drink of Ocean City. The new contract renews a five-year agreement between the town and the popular soft drink company reached in 2012, making Coca-Cola the town’s exclusive beverage franchise holder. In the months since, the town’s Special Events Department has been working on a series of potential shared marketing opportunities including banners on the Boardwalk with the town of Ocean City and Coca-Cola logos displayed, as well as three oversized Adirondack-style chairs with the Coke and town logos on them providing photo opportunities for visitors.

There have also been cursory discussions about a potential shared marketing opportunity with the town’s water tower just north of the Route 90 Bridge, which is tentatively scheduled to be repainted. As part of the ongoing discussion about shared marketing opportunities, Special Events Director Frank Miller has had conversations with Coca-Cola about the possibility of adding a logo on the water tower near Route 90, but again, those conversations have only been exploratory at this point.

On Monday, Miller presented the three shared marketing opportunities with the Mayor and Council including the oversized Adirondack chairs, the Boardwalk banners and the water tower. Miller essentially presented two options to the elected officials. The first was to have the town’s Public Works Department explore the potential costs of the water tower painting along with some pricing for adding the Coca-Cola logo while moving forward with the Boardwalk banners and oversized chairs initiatives.

The second option was to forego any further discussion of the Coke logo on the water tower and simply move forward with the Boardwalk banners and oversized chairs. After a long and often spirited debate, the majority of the council voted against any further discussions of the Coca-Cola logo on the water tower in conjunction with the town’s logo, regardless of the potential economic benefit.

At the outset of the discussion, Miller explained the Route 90 water tower was the next in the cycle scheduled for repainting. Traditionally, the town’s water towers have been painted in the iconic blue color with the city’s logo and some welcoming message. In recent years, the town’s old downtown water tower at Worcester Street was painted with the Dew Tour logo and more recently, the new water tower at 1st Street was painted in the now-familiar beach ball design.

Miller said the estimated coast of repainting the Route 90 water tower is around $200,000. He said preliminary discussions with Coca-Cola over the potential marketing partnership could have the company pay the town $40,000 per year over the four-year life of the current beverage contract, or around $160,000. He said partnering with Coca-Cola on the Route 90 water tower, one of the most visible in town, could offset the cost of repainting it.

“This is a highly visible tower,” he said. “It can justify higher spending on a graphic or logo.”

Miller said the discussion boiled down to three basic questions.

“Is the town interested in a unique revenue stream?” he said. “Does this affect the town negatively or positively? At what point are plastering the town with too many sponsors? When is it too much?”

Miller presented the benefits and costs associated with each of the three shared marketing initiatives including the Boardwalk banners, the oversized chairs and the water tower. Councilman Tony DeLuca said he could support two of the concepts, but could not support the proposed Coke logo on the water tower. He said if a logo other than the traditional town’s welcoming message is considered, perhaps a golf ball design promoting the municipally-owned Eagle’s Landing golf course should be considered.

“I like two of the three,” he said. “I can’t support the tower for a lot of reasons. That tower gives us an opportunity to showcase Eagle’s Landing, which is one of the nicest golf courses in Maryland. I like the golf ball idea.”

Later in the discussion, DeLuca made it known in no uncertain terms he could not support the Coke logo on the water tower regardless of the economic benefit. He pointed out the new Denny’s restaurant at the foot of the bridge is already proposing a seven-foot tall fork as part of its signage.

“No matter what Coke offers for the water tower, my answer is no,” he said. “Just to be clear, that’s what I call a sell-out. People don’t come across that bridge into Ocean City and say ‘I really want a Coke.’ That represents a sell-out and I don’t care what they offer.”

It was pointed out during the discussion there was some precedent with the Dew Tour logo and welcoming message on the former Worcester Street tower. Incidentally the Dew Tour is a Pepsi-sponsored event and Coke’s biggest rival. DeLuca said any hopes of getting the Dew Tour to return to Ocean City could be challenging with a giant Coke logo at one of the town’s most prominent water tower locations.

“If we have any hope of ever getting the Dew Tour to come back, having a giant Coke logo is not our best foot forward,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be for it even if it was a Pepsi logo.”

Councilman Matt James agreed, saying the Dew Tour clearly brought people into town for the events that stayed in the hotels and patronized the restaurants. He said while Coca-Cola is a beverage franchisee for the town, the same cannot be said of the soft drink giant. He also pointed out the proposed sign clutter expected with the oversized fork at the new Denny’s.

“People came to Ocean City because of the Dew Tour,” he said. “Nobody is coming to Ocean City because of Coca-Cola. I may be short-minded on this, but with a six- or eight-foot fork at the base of the bridge, I just don’t think we need a Coke logo on the water tower.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman reminded his colleagues of the Dew Tour design on the downtown water tower. While he was not necessarily advocating for the Coke logo on the Route 90 water tower, Hartman did say it was worth at least looking at the numbers and the potential economic benefit before dismissing it outright.

“We all remember having the downtown water tower with the Dew Tour on it,” he said. “Coca-Cola is not an offensive product and it fits with the family theme. If we do the beach ball with the Coke logo, people would know they have arrived in Ocean City. I think we should at least be open to getting the numbers.”

Councilman John Gehrig agreed the idea should not be simply dismissed without at least some exploratory numbers. He pointed out revenue projections are lagging, and the budget will be challenging, all of which are concepts brought forth at last week’s council work session.

“We talk about revenue ideas and how we don’t want to raise taxes and how the budget is going to be tight,” he said. “There is no harm in gathering information. That’s part of the decision-making process. I don’t want a big Coca-Cola logo up there either, but that little logo along with the town’s logo isn’t offensive.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said he was not in favor of the concept of allowing a Coca-Cola logo on the water tower. He did say he could support the idea of an Eagle’s Landing logo.

“I’m not big on doing advertising on the water tanks,” he said. “I think it’s getting to be a little too much. I do like the idea of branding our golf course though.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight weighed in on the side of her colleagues who dismissed the idea of the Coke logo on the water tower. Knight said she could support some creative design without “selling out” to the big advertising giant.

“I don’t want the Coke logo on the tower,” she said. “I can’t sell out on it. I think having a golf ball or another beach ball should be a separate discussion. That beautiful, iconic beach ball will not be seen by people crossing the bridge when the Cambria Hotel is built. It won’t be seen by people unless they are in town.”

With that said, a motion was made to support the oversized Adirondack-style chairs idea and moving forward with discussions on alternatives for the Boardwalk banners, while forgoing any more discussion about the Coke logo on the water tower. That motion was approved by a 5-2 vote with Council President Lloyd Martin, DeLuca, James, Knight and Dare in favor and Hartman and Gehrig opposed.

A second motion was made to move forward with the oversized chairs and the concept of the Boardwalk banners and that motion was approved by the same 5-2 vote.

Boardwalk Banners

One of the shared marketing opportunities with Coca-Cola that was tentatively supported by the Mayor and Council was the placement of banners along the Boardwalk with both the town of Ocean City and Coke logos featured.

Miller explained there are 36 locations along the Boardwalk that would support the banners. The banner locations are currently used to promote certain special events such as the Ocean City Air Show, for example, but are often left empty when they are not being used to promote special events.

Miller said there have been discussions with Coca-Cola officials to create canvas-style banners featuring the town’s logo or seal prominently along with an added logo for Coke. There is little expense associated with producing the banners, which Miller estimated would cost Coke around $5,000.

While generally supportive of the banner idea, some on the council questioned if at that price the town would not be better served to produce the banners in house and not include any Coke logos or any other business promotions.

“If the banners are only going to be $5,000 for Coke to provide, I imagine our cost would be around the same,” said James. “I would like to see someone in our organization design something that is all Ocean City that we can put up and change out between events.”

Hartman said he liked that concept and maybe some local businesses would be interested in sponsoring the banners. However, James clarified he was interested in seeing only the Ocean City logos on the banners and not any other advertising.

“Just to clarify, I like the idea of having the banners up there, I just don’t want to have Coke on them,” he said. “I don’t want any businesses on them and I don’t want them to be another advertisement. I don’t want any more tacky signs on the Boardwalk. I would prefer something attractive produced by the town that promotes Ocean City, not businesses.”

Hartman pointed out the council had already nixed the water tower concept and the town should work with Coke on some of the other initiatives.

“The beverage contract used to bring in $75,000 a year and now it brings in $25,000,” he said. “If we don’t add some value to a contract like that, we’re going to lose it. If Coca-Cola is giving us $25,000 a year, I think we need to be open-minded and be a partner on some of these ideas or else we’re going to lose that. You can already see how much the value has dropped.”

After considerable debate, moving forward with the banners was approved although the concept of having them just promote Ocean City will be explored.

Oversized Adirondack-Style Chairs

The one proposed shared marketing initiative that was the least controversial was the oversized Adirondack-style chairs featuring the town logo prominently along with Coca-Cola logos. The three chairs would present photo opportunities for lasting memories for visitors and would placed at three strategic locations around town including the Boardwalk at North Division Street, the north end of the Boardwalk at 27th Street and at Northside Park.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.