‘This ferry brought to you by JanSport’

It’s nearly impossible to miss the new advertising on a ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle.

Walk-on passengers push through double-doors coated in a single ad for JanSport. Two wall-size ads in the corridors play up the California company’s Seattle roots.

On the car deck a billboard-size panorama features the JanSport logo and the slogan, “Where to?”

The JanSport ads are just the first wave in what Washington State Ferries hopes will be a bountiful revenue stream from dealing ad space in all ships and terminals.

“This is a big project, and it should be quite lucrative for the ferries,” WSF Regional Operations Director Jayne Davis said.

Ad sales are uncharted waters for WSF, Davis said, so it brought in Seattle firm Tans4Media to coordinate the campaigns for clients.

JanSport was the first to sign up; its ads debuted early this week on the Tacoma and Wenatchee, which with 6,459,802 riders in 2006, constitute the largest ferry market.

The one-month, two-boat contract with JanSport netted the ferries a little over $39,000. Ad revenue could climb into the millions annually once space is sold throughout the ferry system, Davis said.

The money will go to operating costs and help reduce WSF’s dependence on subsidies, which could eventually translate into a fare decrease for passengers.

Advertising has previously been limited to a contract with Certified Folder Display Service, to maintain a lighted brochure and tabloid display rack on the boats and to manage ad space in the WSF newsletter “Sound Crossings.”

The JanSport ads mark the first time a company has paid to slap its logo on the boat itself.

The idea of advertising on iconic white ferries is alluring to a wide range of companies, Trans4Media director of sales Larry Adams said.

“You can’t advertise on Mount Rainier or the Space Needle, if you consider those icons. So when your talking about an institution that is 50 years old, that’s a very special opportunity,” he said.

Another draw is the availability of an untapped audience. Adams said companies like JanSport know they can leave “impressions” on hundreds of riders continuously during a voyage.

“The companies that would be interested in this kind of platform would be companies interested in a captive audience,” he said.

Adams said Trans4Media is pitching the platform to regionally based companies like Jones Soda and PEMCO Insurance, as well as international heavyweights including Starbucks, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Lufthansa airlines.

The firm is also approaching local businesses on both sides of the sound including Bainbridge Athletic Club and Anthony’s Pier 66 in Seattle.

Advertising on a state-owned vessel brings a unique set of challenges, Adams said. Each display, made from a vinyl material produced by 3M, is Coast Guard inspected to meet fire and safety standards.

“A lot more goes into it than just slapping up some paint,” he said.

As the program expands, Trans4Media will be selling space on ferry floors and tables and encouraging advertisers to try more creative promotions.

JanSport will soon have drawings for free backpacks on board.

Davis said WSF doesn’t want to “plaster” its ferries and terminals with advertising, but how much space is sold will depend on how tight the budget squeeze gets in the future.

“We do know that a lot of people aren’t going to like it,” she said. “But we need to do as much as we can to help ourselves financially.”

Martha Burke, a Bainbridge ferry rider and chair of the citizen executive committee of Ferry Advisory Committees, said she has mixed feelings.

“I know they are putting these things on as a way of trying to generate revenue. And the more revenue they generate, the less pressure there is to raise the fares,” Burke said. “On the other hand, I’m kind of tired of everywhere I go I can’t get away from advertising, so I’m not really thrilled with them in that way. I’m just another rider, but I have the feeling a lot of others will feel the same way.”

On a Wednesday afternoon trip to Seattle aboard the Tacoma, Brian Rohr of Port Townsend was among JanSport’s captive audience.

“It doesn’t surprise me per se,” he said of the new ads. “But I don’t really like advertising in general because its invasive and annoying.”

Rohr and his traveling companion Breanna Waliser said they thought the ads were tasteful enough, but hoped future campaigns would feature smaller, local companies.

“I guess I would be more cool with it if it was all local businesses, like small local shops and farms,” Rohr said.

Elsewhere the ads sparked debate at a table of Bainbridge travelers.

Shannon Lea said the ads seemed “understated” and okay. Peter Lucas didn’t like the idea of ads on the ferry at all, but Meilinda Lucas said it all came down to what it will do for riders.

“If it will lower fares,” she said, “then advertise away.”

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