Lucrative branding deal of historic landmark has angered many in the capital city
Story by Nicole Esan
MADRID- On his way to work every morning, Davide Ibáñez Cocho passes at least one or two vandalized Vodafone logos at the Sol metro station and rolls his eyes. Since its name change from Sol to Vodafone Sol last April, Cocho, 28, has been disappointed to see one of his fondest childhood places in Madrid commercialized.
“[An unbranded Sol] is something I grew up with,” said Cocho,” a finance controller at LTK, a technology development company in Madrid. “I don’t want to see it change.”
Vodafone is a phone and internet service provider – one of the five most popular in Spain. The company is paying Metro de Madrid 3 million euro, or about $4.1 million, over the span of three years to be placed along with Sol on all references to the Metro stop including official Metro maps, inside all the trains and on all the platforms underground.
The lucrative deal marks the kind of commercialization that has become standard throughout the world, most predominantly in the United States, where everything from sports arenas to art galleries bear the name of corporate entities. Critics of the practice believe that some things, particularly public spaces, should not be used for what is effectively an advertisement. But the math is hard to deny. A town, city, non-profit agency or private entity scores easy money by selling naming rights. The corporate brander gets a high-profile slot in an area frequented by tens of thousands of people each day.
“This deal was huge for both our companies,” said Adolfo Miranda, spokesperson for Vodafone Spain. He said this was the first time a city in Europe had changed an entire Metro line in a commercialization deal.
Plaza Sol is one of the most historic and bustling places in Madrid, a square that served as an important meeting place hundreds of years ago and, today, has become a central hub for both commuters and tourists. Political demonstrations are also often held in the square.
The name-rights deal, in 2013, inspired an immediate slew of criticism. “That is tantamount to selling the heart and soul of Madrid and hundreds of years in history for a short term financial boost,” a man wrote on a Spanish message board called Madridman.
The vandalism of the Vodafone signs, marked by black and blue sharpie markers and scratchings, is not much different in style than the defacing seen on many street corners, construction sites and store shutters. However, the target in this case – the corporate name of a major company – leads some to believe a larger statement is being made.
“I wasn’t surprised to see the symbol all scratched out,” said Concho. “People don’t like that a private company paid to change a metro station name. Especially one as historic as Sol.”
When asked about the Vodafone vandalism, a Metro de Madrid spokesperson said “this is not a problem,” and said it is viewed as any other type of marking.
“If we see something is dirty we paint over it or replace the sticker,” the spokesperson said through a translator. “We don’t think much of it.”
Miranda said he had no expectations as to what the response would be of this commercial change because this was the first time a station had been branded.
“There is no precedent of brand presence in [the] public sector and it is normal that some critics initially arise,” said Miranda.
Miranda said Sol made perfect sense for the company because of its central location. Beyond the station, the area is near one of Vodafone’s most visited stores.
“The Sol station is the flagship of Madrid and where one of our iconic stores is located,” Miranda said. “Moreover, the red line 2 allows the direct association with the Vodafone brand.”
While this advertisement partnership may offend some riders, it will help keep Metro ticket prices from rising, according to transportation officials.
The spokesperson of Metro de Madrid, who would not allow his name in print, said only 40 percent of the agency’s income comes from the 1.50 euro, or just over $2 ticket fare, leaving the other 60 percent to come from community donations and advertisements.
Because of the current economic trouble in Madrid, advertising revenue has fallen in the last five years for Metro de Madrid. That has made the Vodafone deal particularly beneficial.
Still, Sofia Rincone Egido, 43, a Metro user, said she is surprised that transportation officials have not spoken out against the vandals.
“The fact that Metro de Madrid is brushing this off like it is nothing is strange,” said Egido. “It is something you would think they would pay attention to.”
Miranda claimed the company has not been bothered by the scratch-outs and cover-ups of their logo within the last year.
“We liked the idea of working with the Metro de Madrid,” said Miranda. “[They are] an organization of nearly 100 years old that is highly respected and is part of the lives of the locals.”
Miranda also said many opportunities have come from this deal, as well as the development and launch of a new mobile app called Vodafone L2 that allows all users of Line 2 Vodafone (customers or not) to read for free one bestseller every month.
“I identified [this] as an opportunity to strengthen the brand image of Vodafone in Madrid and to interact in an unconventional way with 60 million passengers a year,” said Miranda.
Despite the vandalism, Miranda “believe[s] that the effect is still positive in terms of brand perception.”
If the vandalism continues, “we’re just going to keep covering them up,” said the spokesperson for Metro de Madrid. “Like we do the rest of them.”