A commercial branding deal is turning the state Department of Transportation’s highway-helper trucks into rolling billboards for a car insurance company – for modest money that falls short of DOT’s hopes and doesn’t make up for a $3 million cut in state funding.
State Farm will put its name and logo on DOT’s fleet of yellow IMAP (Incident Management Assistance Patrol) trucks, and on the red caps and coats of DOT employees who drive them. For anyone who fails to notice this mobile marketing, the company also will trumpet its IMAP sponsorship on 170 urban highway signs from Asheville to Wilmington.
Money was not mentioned at Monday’s announcement. Later, in response to questions, a DOT spokesman said the state will get $2.4 million over four years for the State Farm sponsorship – $600,000 a year.
Officials had expected more in September, when they shared a consultant’s prediction that DOT might rake in $800,000 to $2.2 million a year. A similar State Farm deal was worth $1.7 million a year for the Georgia DOT.
Nick Tennyson, DOT’s chief deputy secretary, said the state got what it could for giving IMAP trucks the NASCAR logo treatment.
“The reality is that the market is determined by the number of impressions, which is how many people are going to drive by these trucks,” Tennyson said. “As for the estimate of $800,000 to $2.2 million, I’m not thrilled with the fact that we’re outside of the low end of the range.”
It was a disappointing start for DOT’s first big commercial marketing venture. It may throw cold water on talk of doubling the fees DOT collects for restaurant and motel logos on those blue next-exit signs, and on legislators’ dreams of selling ferry-boat naming rights for millions of dollars.
IMAP drivers help stranded freeway motorists by changing flat tires, reviving dead batteries and pouring gas and water into empty tanks and steaming radiators. They push disabled cars off the road. They divert traffic at crash scenes to make room for police and rescue workers.
The program budget was reduced last year from $8.5 million to $5.5 million, as the state shifted some funds away from major urban highway maintenance to provide more money for secondary roads. DOT says it has 75 IMAP drivers on patrol in Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington – down from a reported 82 drivers last summer.
State and federal transportation officials and a State Farm executive displayed the new-look trucks Monday. The insurer’s brand is prominent on the yellow truck doors as part of IMAP’s new name – NCDOT State Farm Safety Patrol – and on a sign high above the truck cab.
IMAP drivers will hand out big calling cards with DOT and State Farm logos, inviting motorists to provide feedback for DOT. State Farm sponsors similar highway truck programs in 13 other states, all marketed online at AssistPatrol.com.
“This is a free service provided,” said Bill Whitney, a State Farm vice president. “And it embodies the State Farm philosophy of providing good-neighbor service to those in need.”
Meredith McDiarmid, who oversees DOT traffic systems operations, said the sponsor’s logo won’t change how IMAP helps stranded motorists get moving again.
“We’re not selling insurance,” McDiarmid said. “We’re not representing State Farm.”