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Got Something to Sell? Give It a Ride on a Bus

Times Staff Writer

What lake--which used to be part of a sea--is home to the world’s only fresh water sharks?

How about the name of Sherman Potter’s horse on the “MASH” television show?

If you answered Lake Nicaragua and Sophie, chances are you learned the answers by riding on San Diego buses, which display vocabulary, memory and trivia quizzes, in addition to English and Spanish-language advertisements, on a small rectangular electronic screen.

But the San Diego Transit Co.'s Rider’s Digest advertising program could be discontinued unless more advertisers show interest, according to transit spokeswoman Deborah Wetter.

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When San Jose-based Lewis Lektronics won a transit company contract to run the program in January, 1984, the company hoped to prove that the unique form of advertising had a promising future.

However, the advertising company soon fell upon hard times and turned the electronic screens over to the transit company, Wetter said.

Since March of last year, San Francisco-based J.B. Hevia & Co. has been selling advertising space and reprogramming the quizzes and memory games each week, Wetter said.

But Hevia has not attracted many advertisers, Wetter added.

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Advertisers “haven’t seen anything like that . . . a nice, clean alternative . . . advertisers are not used to putting messages in words without pictures,” Wetter said.

That lack of advertising has forced the transit company to boost the use of public-service messages and quizzes which run as part of the Rider’s Digest, Wetter said.

Still, the transit company believes the screens could be an effective advertising method. And Hevia believes the electronic messages are the “wave of the future,” according to company spokeswoman Grace Cox.

The electronic messages which are continuously repeated are “a fairly good opportunity to reach a good cross section of the population,” Wetter said. “And (bus passengers) are a captive audience.”

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Riders have responded enthusiastically to a program which offers free bus passes, tickets to sporting events and other prizes. During the past year, 1,175 riders have requested membership cards, Cox said.

However, Hevia "(hasn’t) had a lot of luck” with advertisers, Cox acknowledged.

“People are afraid to take chances on something new,” said Cox, who added that many advertisers must be convinced that the transit system’s 80,000 riders are likely candidates for their products.

For cost-conscious advertisers, space on the screens is lower than what the transit company charges for advertising which adorns the outside of buses.

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For $650, the company will run an electronic advertisement on San Diego’s 300 buses 3 times an hour, 12 hours a day for a month. Yearly contracts include a discount price.

In contrast, a large advertisement on the outside of 200 buses costs as much as $19,000 a month.

Consequently, Hevia has been promoting the Rider’s Digest boards as “a good idea for a lot of small businesses who can’t afford to pay for more expensive ads,” Cox said.


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