Welcome to Medford — but first these words from our sponsor

That great philosopher Sylvester Stallone saw our age coming. What's the takeaway image of Rocky Balboa heading to the ring for the Big Fight? Something that says courage, skill, maybe fate?

Nope. Advertising.

Rocky's robe is plastered with an ad for his pal Paulie's meatpacking plant. Letting them make him into a billboard, Rocky tells tough old Mickey, got Paulie three grand and got him the robe for free.

Rocky has not only sold himself, he's been suckered.

Anyway. The Medford City Council this week decided to let somebody — they don't know who it is yet — slap 2,700 square feet of advertising on the Medford airport's tower. Airport head Bern Case said he thought Medford would be the first city in the county to brand an airport.

"I like the term 'branding,' " Case said. "It's better than 'advertising.' "

Turning a public building into a billboard complete with night lighting was opposed by those negative Nellies at both the Medford Planning Commission and the Citizens Planning Advisory Committee. But Case sold the idea to the council, excepting Councilwoman Karen Blair, arguing it would bring in $3,000 a month, which could enable to airport to cut landing fees, which could lead to more destinations flying out of Medford.

In an annual budget of $34 million, $36,000 a year is a shade more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the airport's income.

The Founding Fathers whiffed on advertising. Just didn't see it coming. But by a century ago marketers had colonized newspapers and magazines and were poised to move on radio and eventually television, which quickly came to be about advertising.

In 1957's "The Hidden Persuaders," Vance Packard fretted over what he saw as the use of motivational research to manipulate people into buying products based on appeals to their "compelling needs." Today that sounds hopelessly naïve.

Packard didn't imagine the Home Shopping Network, ad servers, interactive advertising, product placement, guerrilla marketing, viral ads. And in those days the average American child didn't see 20,000 TV commercials a year, the lion's share of them for junk food (but the TV commercial/childhood obesity link need not concern us here).

Meanwhile, the endless quest for new ad colonies continues. They've branded street furniture, cars, banners, shopping carts (Does it work? "It just did."), the sky, public buses, event programs, buildings, the Internet, public radio and TV (where they're called underwriting announcements), those sandwich board guys, clothing (a neat trick; you pay them to advertise for them), fences, restrooms, the back of airplane seats, the Internet, your favorite football team's uniforms and the bowl games they go to.

Sports is Nike against Nike. Most teams no longer play in venues with names linking them to the community and its history such as Lambeau Field or Comiskey Park. They play in Citizens Bank Park, Comerica park, Coors Field, U.S. Cellular Field, Minute Maid Park (formerly Enron Field, which illustrates one tiny problem with the practice).

Advertisers are driven by the dark suspicion that there might be, somewhere, somehow, some spaces as yet not covered in advertising. Up to now they've only been able to dream of public spaces such as airport towers. But as public agencies grow more desperate, think of the money they could get for, say, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty.

I have a dream too. One night Death calls for me. He's wearing a black cowl and a robe with golden arches and the legend "I'm lovin' it." He whisks me off to St. Peter, who's wearing Gap jeans, a Tommy jacket and a baseball cap with a swoosh.

I get my wings ("Fly the Friendly Skies") and my own little cloud, on which it says "Real estate for your world." Some of the other clouds don't have signs. I ask a neighbor about this.

"We don't get that many ad guys up here," he says, plucking a harp. "They must go somewhere else."

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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