Medford school buses debut ads

Robert Fandel (left) and Leonardo Valencia apply an ad for Murphy's Marketplace to the side of a Medford school bus.
Robert Fandel (left) and Leonardo Valencia apply an ad for Murphy's Marketplace to the side of a Medford school bus. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2013

Those shamrocks suddenly adorning Medford school buses might look like St. Patrick's Day decorations, but they'll be part of the local landscape for years to come.

The Medford School District on Tuesday became the first district in New Jersey to carry advertising on its buses. The five-inch shamrocks belong to a small chain of supermarkets that bought the first ads.

"I'm ecstatic," Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi said Tuesday morning at the district's transportation center on Chairville Road. "Our hope is that this will motivate other merchants" to buy space.

Each of the district's standard-size buses can carry six signs, about nine inches tall and in varying lengths. By state law, a district must approve all messages. They cannot reference politics, tobacco, alcohol, or firearms, and must be appropriate for all ages.

"I thought we'd do it to get our name out more," said Paul Murphy, who, with his wife, Kathleen, started the Murphy's Marketplace chain 35 years ago.

Their Medford-based firm has paid the district $48,000 to carry two nine-foot signs - one on each side - on each of the 55 school buses for the next four years.

As Del Rossi and Murphy watched, two men working for the district's marketing firm repeatedly peeled the adhesive backing off nine-foot vinyl signs, pressed them onto the sides of a bus, and then smoothed out bumps and wrinkles with blowtorches and rubber scrapers.

"Murphy's Marketplace," each reads, with a gold-outlined shamrock preceding "Murphy's" and "Marketplace" underscored in white. The rest of the sign, in large white letters, reads "Supporting Our Community."

Murphy, of Medford, said he had no plans to test whether the message boosted sales at the two stores in Medford. "We just did it to help the schools," he said.

Assemblyman Scott Rudder, a former mayor of Medford, was also on hand to watch as the first signs were pressed into place.

He said he initiated legislation to allow school bus advertising soon after he was sworn in to the Assembly in 2008, but that it "met some resistance" and took two years to enact.

The New Jersey Department of Education was concerned, he said, that signage might interfere with bus safety. By law, the signs may not block any lights, reflectors, bumpers, or required information, such as its passenger capacity.

Bryan McGair, managing director of Advantage3, the Millburn, N.J. firm hired by the Medford district to market advertising on its buses, said other districts had expressed interest in the idea but that signed contracts were coming in more slowly than his company expected. "We're hoping this motivates other districts to look into it," he said.

Typical contracts would be for at least one year, he said. With all the available spaces taken on its buses, a district the size of Medford's could make about $72,000 annually.

New Jersey is one of seven states that allow advertising on public school buses. Most others are in the Midwest and West.

Buses will not carry competitors' advertising at the same time, according to McGair. As long as Medford's buses are carrying Murphy's message, he said with a laugh, "you won't be seeing ShopRite."

Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841 or or on Twitter @doreillyinq.

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