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Advertising limited in Whistler during Games

RMOW aims to keep non-commercial feel of mountain resort

Olympic advertisers will be out in full force during the 2010 Winter Olympics, delivering their messages to a captive audience in Vancouver. But not so in Whistler.

Corporations like McDonald's, Visa and Coca-Cola hoping to reach mass consumer markets as hundreds of thousands of spectators travel to and from Olympic and Paralympic events won't have much opportunity to advertise in Whistler.

And it's not as though they don't want to.

Advertising opportunities for Olympic sponsors, said organizers, would likely be well received in Whistler.

Unlike the city, however, the resort municipality prohibits billboards, video signs and building wraps in its boundaries and it isn't keen on extensive transit advertising either.

Though B.C. Transit has confirmed that Olympic organizers retain the rights for advertising on the outside of the buses, as yet there are no plans to do so in respect of Whistler's current practices.

"We are deferring to the RMOW and simply complying to existing community standards," said Bill Cooper, director of commercial rights for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC).

It will make for a much different Olympic experience here compared to the city.

"It merges fantastically with the Olympic ideal, that while at the Games, it's really about the sport," said Cooper. "And to that extent, I think the Olympic experience up in Whistler is going to be a really pure Olympic experience.

"They're two very different environments. It seems a relatively natural progression - the alpine versus the urban Olympic experience."

Whistler keeps a tight lid on commercial advertising on purpose.

"We've got a beautifully designed village and we're regulated so that you enjoy the mountain feeling of the village," said Sandra Smith, bylaw supervisor with the Resort Municipality of Whistler. "You're not bombarded with marketing images."

In addition to what Smith calls a "comprehensive" sign plan in the village, the RMOW does not allow corporate advertising billboards within its boundaries.

It will be not be varying its sign bylaw significantly for the Games, though there may be more way-finding signs and traffic regulation signs for the time period.

"I think the intention... is we want Whistler to look like Whistler," said Smith.

Whistler's commercial advertising strategy has been getting stricter over the years.

Two years ago, the municipality did not renew its contract with Pattison Outdoor Advertising for transit shelter advertising.

Though the advertising had been in the resort for years, it was, according to staff, in contravention of Whistler's sign bylaw.

That shelter advertising, though miniscule, was part of the $40 million outdoor or out-of-home (OOH) ad space VANOC was required to buy for the Games. That space stretched from Hope to the coast, and from the U.S. border in the south to Whistler in the north. It included extensive advertising on Translink, including space on buses, in stations and on platforms, and even the ability to wrap vehicles in Olympic livery or advertisements.

The buy out was necessary to prevent ambush or guerilla marketing - advertising from non-Olympic sponsors.

"Our big focus here is trying to give our partners an opportunity to speak to consumers as they enter and exit their Olympic experience because they don't have the opportunity to speak to them in the venues," said Cooper. "So that's what the whole program has allowed us to do, and it's been quite effective in that sense because all those immediate adjacencies to venues are now occupied."

But there is space remaining - roughly $17 million of space to be accurate. It's a significant gap for Olympic organizers.

They have since opened up that space to businesses that are not officially affiliated with the Games.

When asked if Whistler inventory such as shelter advertising could help close VANOC's financial gap, Cooper admittedly offered a double sided answer.

"There's two ways to answer that question," he said. "I think that advertising opportunities up in Whistler would likely be well received by the Olympic family, especially in the Olympic environment when the venues are clean of commercial messaging. The first opportunity that our sponsors have to speak to consumers and to leverage their association with the Games is once they leave the venues. So that's why the immediate adjacency of the venues in Vancouver and Richmond are so important to our Olympic sponsors. And not having that opportunity in Whistler I guess is a challenge for them to some extent, so I think that it might help in that sense.

"But at the same time, the flip side is we have plenty of inventory already and we're not actively seeking new inventory."

There are other ways advertisers can reach consumers in Whistler, added Cooper, highlighting the advertising video screens in pubs.

"We're not considering that an essential part of the Olympic experience," said Cooper.

"It's an extension of the Olympic experience and there's going to be plenty of natural advertising that happens there and we're not attempting to control that in any way."

B.C. Transit spokesperson Joanna Morton said they have not yet had the discussions with VANOC about interior bus advertising.

"That still needs to be discussed with VANOC," said Morton.

Meanwhile, at the request of Councillor Ralph Forsyth, municipal staff is the process of preparing a report to council about the financial ramifications of not pursing shelter and other transit advertising. This is not specifically related to Games time.

"It's not going to solve all of our budget problems but I think that at least we owe the taxpayers the effort to try and mitigate some of the costs," said Forsyth. "Our transportation costs are only going one direction, that's up. It's almost insulting to the taxpayer not to try to do something to mitigate it."

The report is expected to come to council this fall.