VIEWPOINT: FOR WATER-TOWER ADS, THE SKY'S THE LIMIT

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It isn't every day an ad medium that had its heyday in the '20s and '30s makes the front page of The New York Times.

But that's what happened early this month when the Times wrote an article about the comeback of advertising on rooftop water tanks. The story created a torrent of publicity: The New York Post gushed forth with a cartoon showing the mayoral candidates strapping their ad messages on the "new, economical" ad medium.

I always thought water tanks were relics of the past, but they are still the most economical way for buildings to provide drinking water and fire protection to the upper floors. Because of gravity, a water tank is more efficient than an electric pumping system.

Although there are now metal water tanks, the wooden ones have been built the same way for 100 years. The advantage of wood is this: Not only does wood breathe, but wooden water tanks can be constructed in one place, then taken apart plank by plank and reassembled on the roof of another building. The pieces can even be taken up in the elevator.

That's probably as much as you want to know about wooden water tanks (except that while cedar is the wood of choice for the tanks, there are a lot of redwood tanks still around).

The more germane question for us is how-or perhaps why-would anyone want to revive the idea of putting advertising on water tanks?

It costs an advertiser $5,000 a month, including production, to rent a water tank, so there are not terribly big bucks in this enterprise, appropriately named Tanks for the Memories.

Tanks is the brainchild of Harold Drucker, who runs a direct-marketing operation handling travel accounts such as Marriott, Cunard and Trump (a recent win). He got the idea seven years ago at his grandson's circumcision. The mohel (the man who performs the ceremony) was delayed, so Mr. Drucker and Scott Hochhauser, an owner of Isseks Bros., one of New York's two major builders of water tanks, got to talking.

Mr. Drucker said to Mr. Hochhauser, who is his son's best friend: "You've got the tanks, and I'm always looking for a receptacle to put ads on. Let's get together."

So they formed a joint company to find advertisers that wanted high-level exposure. So far they've signed a Broadway musical, "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," but putting up an ad on a water tank is not like putting up an ad on an outdoor board where one size fits all. In fact, the entire procedure is fraught with peril. It takes three people to wrap a vinyl fabric with the ad on it around the tank; one guy sits in a boatswain's chair swinging above the tank and the other two guys lace it together. High winds delayed putting up the "Bring in 'Da Noise" ads for a few days, but it can now be viewed from the Long Island Expressway as drivers go through Long Island City. Another ad, for Solgar vitamins, will be up next month.

Mr. Drucker won't do cigarette ads (and from what I read pretty soon neither will anybody else), but liquor ads would work, and he can envision water tanks dressed up like coffee cans and a soft-goods company wrapping denim around one of the tanks. Tony the Tiger would be good, too, he added.

Mr. Drucker is still amazed that his fledgling business ended up on the front page of the Times. But, he said, a lot of people have an affection for water tanks.

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