IBM's Linux ad campaign trips on city sidewalks

Peace and love aren't what IBM received in response to its recent "Peace, Love and Linux" advertising campaign in Chicago and San Francisco.

To promote its $1 billion investment in the Linux operating system this year (see story), IBM hired ad agencies to stencil three side-by-side images of a painted peace symbol, a heart and a Linux penguin on sidewalks in affluent neighborhoods in both cities. The symbols have also been appearing on billboards and in magazines to tout the products. But local officials and business owners where the painted-on sidewalk ads appeared weren't amused by the publicity stunt.

"We consider it vandalism and a defacement of property," said Ray Padvoiskis, a spokesman for Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation. "Spray paint is illegal in the city, as is graffiti. The mayor has a zero-tolerance approach."

In San Francisco, the ad campaign was met with disdain after the painted images were found in the Castro, Financial District, South of Market Area, North Beach and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

"It's vandalism on the sidewalks, that's how we look at it," said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Public Works. "We can't have companies or individuals thinking they can advertise on our sidewalks."

Falvey said IBM was contacted by the city and the company had most of the offending paint cleaned up, but several areas remain. If those images aren't cleaned soon, the city will do the work and will bill IBM, she said.

An IBM spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment despite several attempts today.

In Chicago, it's illegal to place any images on public surfaces, whether using chalk, paint or any other substance, Padvoiskis said. The city wasn't notified ahead of time about the ad campaign and wouldn't have given permission for it had IBM contacted the city, he said.

The painting came to light last Wednesday when police arrested a 20-year-old man as he was allegedly painting the logo on a sidewalk in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Between 100 and 110 of the "Peace, Love and Linux" logos were applied to sidewalks in retail areas in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park and Hyde Park, Padvoiskis said.

The city is seeking reimbursement of the cleanup costs for the vandalism, he said. Fines for graffiti range from $10 to $200 per incident, but a total for the costs hasn't been completed. The "graffiti blaster" machine used by the city to clean graffiti from surfaces costs $134 per hour to operate and will be figured into the cost of the cleanup.

"Some of the [storeowners] were not thrilled about having these images painted in front of their stores," Padvoiskis said.

Allan Weiner, the owner of Spex On Clark, an eyeglasses store in the 2300 block of tony North Clark Street, said the city has already cleaned the IBM logo off the sidewalk in front of his store.

"We're not accustomed to graffiti" in the neighborhood, he said.

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