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Posted at 10:41 PM ET, 12/14/2010

A mural or a gigantic ad?

By Dan Thompson, Silver Spring

The Post appeared not to understand marketing or the concept of the public commons in its defense of a mural promoting an Arlington dog-care store [“Hounded in Arlington,” editorial, Dec. 11].

The editorial questioned the Arlington County government’s grasp of common sense, but its writer was completely snookered by Kim Houghton’s grasp of dollars and cents — using the public commons to advertise her business. If the store were a butcher shop and the mural an 80-foot porterhouse, would we think it as charming?

The mural does not need to carry the store’s name to serve as a sign. The oldest signs known were without words: a boot; a tooth; a red, white and blue striped pole — all signs, all advertisements.

The government offered a compromise: Recognize that this is a public space, add wording about an adjacent county dog park and the sign can stay. But Ms. Houghton, who filed a lawsuit, apparently knows free advertising when she sees it.

By Dan Thompson, Silver Spring  | December 14, 2010; 10:41 PM ET
Categories:  Arlington, Virginia  
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Looks like art to me. Art the city didn't have to pay for. Petty.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 15, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness famous art critic jckdoors has weighed in!

It's not a question of whether or not it's art, imbecile. It's a question of whether it serves as an advertisement. Unquestionably, that answer would be yes.

Here's a thought experiment. Imagine I own a store selling print reproductions of old masterpieces. On the side of my building, I decide to have a mural of the Mona Lisa painted. Is that going to attract attention and serve as advertisement for my store? Any sane, rational person would unhesitatingly conclude "yes". This being the DMV, however, whinging takes precedence over logic.

Posted by: Wallenstein | December 15, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Wallenstein before posting it might be worthwhile to apply some reason and logic to the issue.

If the mural is an advertisement it's a very subtle one and one that is unlikely to be effective at drumming up business.

The patrons of the dogpark are unlikely to associate with the business in question particularly if one bears in mind that the painting is on the rear wall of the building. The only data the patrons have is that it is canine related mural with cartoonish dogs and pawprints overlooking a dog park.

If I where to see it and not aware of the fact that it was a business which is pet related that had put it up. I would probably make all sorts of reasonable guesses as to what the purpose of the mural. For example maybe the owner of the building likes dogs, that the dog park had put it up, as well as other possibilities.

I would have to actually take the time to find out who had put it up and why. Something which most people aren't likely to bother to and are far more likely to find out by accident if they drive by the front of the building. And given the tendency of most people to tune out most signs on buildings that still reduces the percentage even lower.

In this case the Arlington councils demand is a classic case of rules for the sake of petty rules. And one that is quite frankly petty. The patrons of the dogpark are unlikely to be offended by the mural. In fact I would hold that it adds value to the dogpark.

Posted by: werehawk | December 15, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

It's the Arlington Way, dear Commissar.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | December 15, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

So werehawk, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that advertising rules should not apply to this because even though it is advertising, it's not very good advertising?

What I think the Post needs to consider is that Arlington, a government, can't discriminate on the grounds of message under the first amendment. If it winks at this, someone with a mural for a business which is less savory will come along and insist that they be allowed, after all, Arlington allowed it for the dog store. How about a liquor store, perhaps with a sign visible from a local high school ...

Incidentally, why would she spend 4k on this while doing a startup unless it was intended as advertising? In this economy.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | December 15, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Believing that this is not a sign is very naive, warehawk. People in that dog park are very social and it only takes a few regulars who know about Wag More to passively reveal the "secret" in conversation. In the grand scheme of advertising $4,000 is not a lot.

And now. Wow! That $4,000 she spent got her priceless publicity. It doesn't hurt that she has the phone number of the Post Metro desk on speed-dial having been an employee there.

Posted by: Jay5440 | December 15, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

No. My observation is that in this case the Arlington town council is being overly rigid in how they are applying the rules. And this issue could have been avoided in the first place if they'd applied a little bit of reason and logic to their decision.

As for people being very social true enough but what percentage of people will make a comment beyond nice mural and maybe idly wondering about who may of painted it. Not very many and most people will probably have other topics of conversation rather than the mural. And as for the regulars what percentage will even know or even remember who the mural's owner is? Or for the matter what business it is related to? I very doubt many of them will recall the fact at all.

Jay5440 you do have a point about this maybe causing problems later on when a business does something advertising something less savory. And tries to claim an exemption. However there are ways the Arlington council could avoid that problem in a perfectly legal fashion.

As for the observation on her connections to the Washington Post yes it is an issue.

Posted by: werehawk | December 16, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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