Illinois to study idea of corporate license plates
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois is looking at allowing corporations to put their logos or advertisements on state license plates, something that has proven successful in raising revenue in Texas.
Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, this spring passed a measure to have the secretary of state’s office study whether the state could make money by allowing corporations to sponsor license plates.
The special plates would be offered to Illinois motorists at a discount, and the companies would pay the state to put their logos or ads on the plates.
The study is to be concluded by Jan. 1.
Mulroe said when he initially approached the secretary of state’s office, which is in charge of administering specialty license plate programs, “they said, ‘It sounds like a left-field idea, so let’s leave it in left field.’
“I responded, ‘We haven’t been playing too well in the infield, maybe it’s time to try something else.’”
Illinois already offers more than 70 specialty plates, everything from college-themed plates to those honoring the military and promoting nonprofits.
The hope is that the corporate-sponsorship initiative would raise revenue without raising taxes, Mulroe said. The purpose of the study is to gauge interest and try to determine how much money such a program could raise.
Big business benefit?
The idea was brought to Mulroe by John Morgan of Chicago, who is creating a start-up that he hopes will solicit businesses on behalf of the state if the General Assembly signs off on corporate plates.
Morgan said he researched the idea for more than two years before bringing it to Mulroe. Larger corporations have expressed interest in having the ability to advertise on license plates, Morgan said, though he declined to mention any names.
One local company isn’t so sure of the idea.
“Any time the government gets the private sector involved, they tend to make a mess of it,” said Charles Hough, director of operations for Springfield doughnut shop Mel-O-Cream.
It wouldn’t necessarily benefit small local companies like Mel-O-Cream to have their logo on license plates in Chicago, he noted.
“If you had a big business like McDonald’s, maybe then it would make sense,” Hough said.
However, the advertising has worked for one small company in Texas, the only state to currently allow corporate logos on license plates.
The Texas program is different from the Illinois proposal. In Texas, the state government contracted with a third-party vendor, My Plates, to produce specialty license plates.
In Illinois, all the plates are produced by the state.
Austin, Texas-based hamburger joint Mighty Fine Burgers produced a custom plate with a cheeseburger on the side, My Plates spokeswoman Kim Drummond said.
The idea was so new and quirky that the news media statewide picked up the story, gaining the company much publicity, Drummond said.
Mighty Fine Burgers also did a tie-in campaign with the license plates, offering $100 in free food to customers who bought the custom plates and kept them on their vehicles for one year.
My Plates produces corporate license plates for six companies, including Ford Motor Co., Dr Pepper and real-estate franchise RE/MAX.
“License plates are like little billboards running around the state of Texas advertising your company,” Drummond said.
Since My Plates started producing specialty plates for Texas in November 2009, it has sold 489 corporate plates, most of those within the last year. Their sale has raised $51,805 for the state’s general revenue fund, Drummond said.
Unlike Illinois’ proposal, consumers don’t receive a discount or any incentive to purchase the corporate-sponsored plates.
Morgan, who brought the idea to Mulroe in Illinois, has also introduced it to the state of Florida via a lobbyist he knew. That bill was killed in committee May 7.
California looked at taking license plate advertising a step further than what is proposed in Illinois.
The California General Assembly considered last year using electronic license plates in the state, which would also be capable of displaying advertisements. That bill also died in committee.
Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.
A sampling of Illinois specialty plates
Collegiate license plates
Eastern Illinois College
Illinois State University
Loyola University Chicago
Malcolm X College
Northern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville University of Illinois at Champaign University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois at Springfield Western Illinois University
Total Collegiate – 19
Military license plates
Air Force Cross
Armed Forces Reserves
Congressional Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Ex-Prisoner of War
Illinois National Guard
Korean Service Medal
Korean War Veteran
Retired Armed Forces
U S Marine Corps
Universal Veteran (Mcy)
World War II
Total Military –27
Source: secretary of state’s office