HIGHTOWER: Selling the Zoo, City Hall, and Mt. Rushmore

Let's journey again into the Far, Far, Far-out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.

Today, spaceship Hightower takes you deep into the dazzling neon of CorporateWorld, where no public facility is spared being branded by some kind of corporate logo. I've joked before about the likelihood that we're not far from seeing a Nike swoosh on Mount Rushmore. But the joke is coming uncomfortably closer to reality, as more and more corporations are stamping their private brands on various non-profit institutions, ranging from zoos and children's hospitals to museums and theaters.

The New York Times reports, for example, that the venerable St. Louis Zoo has sold off naming rights for pieces of itself, including its Anheuser-Busch hippo harbor, its Bank of America ampitheater, its Emerson Electric petting zoo, and -- oh, hypocrisy! -- its Monsanto insectarium. Why would Monsanto, the maker of bug-killers, pay $3 million to put it's name on a public exhibit that teaches the value of bugs in our world? Because the corporation wants to whitewash its image by attaching its name to an institution that people like. This is not philanthropy ... it's marketing.

Likewise, the global toy giant, Mattel paid $25 million to get its name of UCLA's children's hospital. Kids who go there are treated to toys -- not just any toys, however, but Mattel-brand toys. A Mattel spokeswomen insists that this isn't marketing, but simply an expression of the corporation's love of children. Right.

McDonald's, too, loves children -- so much so that it paid $5 million to get its name on Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. And yes, there will be a McDonald's in the museum to sell Big Macs to the kids. Who's touching whom here?

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Lest you think this corporatization will end at museums, hospital, and zoos, some cities reportedly are even thinking about selling naming rights to city hall.

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