Hey, Advertisers: New York Has a Bridge to Sell You

Just When You Thought Ads Are Everywhere, Now Comes Toll-Gate Messages

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Ever hear the term, "Hey, I got a bridge I can sell you?" Well, now it's true.

The New York State Bridge Authority is selling ad space on the toll gates at its five bridge crossings in upstate New York. Yup, the big mechanical arm that comes down at every toll booth -- and doesn't go back up until you pay the $1 or it recognizes your EZ-Pass reader -- now features advertising. And local marketers are jumping at the chance.

"This is so 'in your face' advertising we couldn't pass it up. It's brilliant," said Nancy Jubie, who co-owns the popular seasonal attraction Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, N.Y., just south of Kingston, with her husband Mike.

NYSBA operates five bridges that traverse the Hudson River in a 70-mile span between Hudson, N.Y. and suburban New York City. According to NYSBA figures for the year of 2009, the most recent year available, 58 million cars went over the five bridges combined. But the total has dropped in four of the last six years, including this year, forcing the Bridge Authority to come up with inventive ways to make up a loss of $450,000 in toll revenue.

"We're extremely pleased with the great response to the program," Bridge Authority Executive Director Joseph Ruggiero said. "Between the economy and high gas prices, toll revenue has seen a steady decline for the past few years."

Better still, Mr. Ruggiero noted there has been little backlash from a public that is sometimes exasperated with the amount of advertising they're hit with. "Most people who remark on the ads understand that we have an expensive job to do," he said. "Using every resource to be innovative and work with the business community just makes sense."

Ms. Jubie said she reallocated ad dollars from her small budget from radio and newspapers to $18,000 for a three-month advertising berth on the toll arm. Her ad lists her website stretched across the 4-foot toll arm.

"I find that radio is ineffective unless somebody, you know, is actually listening to the radio. And nobody is buying newspapers anymore," she said. "I just think it's terrific advertising to have an ad come down right in front of you, even if it's just for three to five seconds. It's long enough for a captive audience to see and to go to our site and find out what we're all about."

What it's about is being annually voted one of the top hayrides and haunts in the country. But the attraction is only open from mid-September until Halloween, and only on the weekends. It does well, but Ms. Jubie was looking to boost her attendance. The upshot?

"We can't begin to meet the demand. We have been sold out for the season," she said.

Ms. Jubie began advertising only after she saw a local car dealer who bought up space on the toll gates, Kingston, N.Y.-based Colonial Subaru.

"Newspapers, for my product, are becoming less and less of an impactful, effective advertising source," Colonial Subaru owner-president Tom Murphy, Jr. said. "I reallocated a lot of funds away from [print] to do the bridge ads. It's really an interesting new form of advertising. Frankly, it's been incredibly effective." Since he first started advertising the dealership's website, colonialsubaru.com, on the bridge toll arms in August, Mr. Murphy said traffic to the site has gone up 32% and his bounce rate -- the amount of people who come to his website and look only at the opening page -- has gone down.

"The impact has been tremendous," he said. "It's a changing buyer's attitude out there, and you have to change with the times."

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