Verizon Fined by District for Chalk-on-Sidewalk Advertising

By Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 1, 2006

The District said yesterday that it fined Verizon Communications Inc. $1,050 for stenciling orange-red chalk ads on sidewalks across the city to promote its Yellow Pages.

Verizon, the nation's second-largest phone company, thought it had found a nifty way to get consumers' attention when it began spraying about 135 chalk advertisements around the city on Sunday.

"Looking for Something? Find it in the . . . Verizon Yellow Pages," read the roughly 2-by-3-foot ads that turned up on heavily trafficked sidewalks, including in Northwest near the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro stop and on K Street downtown.

Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for the District Department of Public Works, said the "guerrilla" marketing campaign broke D.C. rules.

"We take this kind of thing pretty seriously. Litter, graffiti, posters . . . anything that defaces, clutters or dirties the city and makes it less welcoming and less hospitable is really anathema," Myers said.

She said the District had fined Verizon $150 for each of seven ads it found around the city. She said the ads had worn away or were washed off before D.C. crews could clean them.

Even though they were made of water-soluble chalk and would have disappeared with time and rain, such advertisements are barred from sidewalks without a permit from the mayor.

Verizon spokeswoman Vanessa Banks said the company asked the contractor who placed the ads to clean them up as soon as it learned of the violation on Wednesday. By the end of the day Thursday, all of them were gone, she said.

"Even though we are looking for new and different ways to catch consumers, creativity would never take precedence over the law," Banks said. "We regret that this was outside of the city's code."

The Verizon spokeswoman said she thought the city had not yet decided whether to impose fines for the ads, but Myers said Department of Public Works inspectors had already issued seven "notices of violation." Each carries a $150 fine.

Banks said this was the first time Verizon, which spends vast sums on TV and print advertising, had sprayed chalk on sidewalks as a marketing technique.

"It's harder and harder to catch consumers' attention, so many companies, including us, are turning to nontraditional advertisements," she said. "At this point, of course, I don't think we'll be trying it again."

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