Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"How about an ad showing the overtaxed Austin driver pulverizing Dash with a ballpeen hammer?"

Dash the Bobblehead?

Hey, toll road ad icon should be a little plastic panhandler

October 03, 2006

John Kelso
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The folks at Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing here in Austin missed an opportunity when they created a computer-enhanced bobblehead doll named Dash to bother people into getting toll tags.

The Dash character the agency came up with to push the toll tag program in a TV ad campaign isn't bad. But the Matthews people could have bumped it up a notch if they'd invented the Pud the Pestering Panhandler chatting bobblehead doll for the same campaign.

Because toll roads will be hitting us up for our spare change by the side of the road, what would be more fitting? Pud the Pestering Panhandler dashboard doll would have become the Texas Department of Transportation's toll road plastic Jesus. Oh well. Another missed opportunity.

Dash the talking bobblehead really will be the star of a $1.8 million advertising campaign designed to get drivers to sign up for toll tags. In fact, the transportation department has ordered 25,000 of these bobbleheads for new toll tag customers. But they won't be ready for four or five months. So maybe you should wait to sign up.

I don't know about you, but I'd be some kind of ticked off if I got a toll tag and I got hosed out of my bobblehead. I can envision it now: toll tag customers left without bobbleheads start riot in front of TxDOT headquarters.

In a way, I'm a big toll road fan. For one thing, they dispel the notion that all Texans have oil wells in their yards. For another, when people move to Austin from New Jersey, it makes them feel at home by giving the area a Sopranos feel. And, if you live in Round Rock, Texas 130 will provide you with a great way to get to Mustang Ridge, a major trade route for people on the garage sale circuit.

Why all this push to get you out of your chair to get a toll tag? Because like tainted spinich, toll roads are the wave of the present. Next month, parts of Texas 130, Texas 45 North, and MoPac Boulevard will be open to the public for free, for the first two months.

The bad news is that it's like heroin. The first hit's free, but they'll be charging for the next one. And one of the ways they charge you is the toll tag, which you should obtain ostensibily to keep from being forced to sit in long lines of traffic.

So here comes Dash the Bobblehead in the TV ads, shown sitting on the dash of the car of some driver who is stuck in traffic because he didn't get a toll tag.

"Are we there yet? Seriously, are we there yet?" Dash asks.

Instead of Dash the Bobblehead, how about Smash the Bobblehead, an ad showing the overtaxed Austin driver pulverizing Dash with a ballpeen hammer?

Toll roads. Well, it dismisses the old tourism slogan that Texas is "a whole 'nother country." Which makes you wonder: what's next? Pay toilets to raise money for public schools? Hey, that's a good idea. How about a Tommy the Talking Toilet Seat action figure who hassles you for money?

It never ends, does it? I expect one day that the government will just install bar codes on our behinds so we can pay as we go and they can just send us a bill at the end of the month.

John Kelso's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 445-3606 or jkelso@statesman.com.

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.statesman.com