Virginia Tourism, NPS, “Art” and Advertising Money

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

You may have noticed the sculpture of the word “LOVE” erected in Dupont Circle last week. While it was billed as an art installation, it was actually part of an ad blitz done for the Virginia Tourism campaign, and the Park Service isn’t happy at all about being lied to.  According to Lydia DePillis from the City Paper, the installation was removed with prejudice Friday.

Virginia Tourism took down their blog posting on the takeover, but the press release remains online.

What would an ad like that cost, though? I know you can’t buy ad space in Dupont Circle, as it’s Park Service land and they don’t permit advertising on public land, even in DC, but I did some talking to media buyers today, and came up with some numbers.

Photo courtesy of
‘LOVE 2788’
courtesy of ‘yospyn’

One of the media buyers I talked to suggested that while you can’t put a firm dollar value on something that’s not available on the open market, but rather looking to Metro would make a lot of sense. The Dupont Circle Metro station likely sees about the same number of visitors as the Circle, and a station-wide buyout for a week would be at least $7,000 for a week, with buyouts of the dioramas (10 in all, per Holzer) and double-poster sheets on the platform (7, per Holzer).  Were “Station Domination” style advertising available in the station, rates go up sharply and would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Another area media buyer with an emphasis on wallscapes, Kyle Sheldon of D.C. United said “I’d say a two week run would be worth tens of thousands of dollars,” but only after it was revealed what it was they were advertising.  By now, with stories in the City Paper,, and various TV and radio outlets, the “art” has been tied to the campaign fairly successfully in followup stories, much like this one.

Let’s go low tens of thousands of dollars, and assume a value of $20,000 for five days of a physical ad in the city’s most prominent circle, that’d be fair, don’t you think? Even if it were just $15,000, it’s still pretty outrageous that they got this for free by masquerading marketing as art.  One could make the charge that getting the NPS to agree to the installation might represent fraud in their permit application.

While the spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism campaign says the “artwork was a temporary installation,” it’s hard to see it as anything other than a piece of marketing masquerading otherwise, and the campaign managed to get at least $15,000 of free advertising on public park land.  Shameful.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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6 thoughts on “Virginia Tourism, NPS, “Art” and Advertising Money

  1. I think it’s kind of cool. I mean, let’s not overthink it, it said: LOVE (not, like PEPSI or something). I think we’ll all live.

  2. Aaron: Since an entire social marketing campaign is planned behind it to promote the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand. Here at WLDC, we received several fishy pitches from a fictional character about the project that directly tied it to the marketing campaign.

    The whole thing was pretty ham-fisted, actually. As an enthusiast for well-executed social and transmedia marketing, I was disappointed.

  3. I still feel conflicted because I was both duped and enamored by the sculpture.