Ho Chi Minh City and its questionable caution for advertising on buses

By Dinh Muoi, Thanh Nien News

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After years of thinking it over, the city finally allows ads on certain buses, forgoing potential returns of $5.37 million a year
 
 

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 A file photo of buses in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dinh Muoi 
Nearly 23 years after moving back and forth on whether ads on buses should be allowed, Ho Chi Minh City has finally said yes to the question. 
But the problem is, experts say, city officals seem to be very cautious and only want to start with a one-year pilot program that comes with many regulations and restrictions. 
Nguyen Quy Cap, vice chairman of Ho Chi Minh City Advertising Association, told Thanh Nien that he saw no point in this caution, especially after the city has spent years thinking about all the pros and cons. 
Bus advertising is a very normal business and is not prohibited under Vietnamese laws, he said.
In many other provinces and cities such as Hanoi, ads on buses have existed for decades.
But in Ho Chi Minh City started banning them in 1992 for fear that the ads would badly affect the city's looks and distract drivers. These are concerns that Cap has dismissed as groundless. 
Since the ban, many agencies and businesses have urged the authority lift it. Officials discussed the issue and called for proposals but not much has been done, he said.
Cap further pointed out that ads have been put on taxis around the city without restrictions, which makes the city's about advertising on buses "very strange."
He estimated that ads on the sides of buses alone can bring in VND50 million (US$2,200) a year, meaning that the city can earn at least VND120 billion ($5.37 million) annually with its nearly 3,000 buses.
According to the city's plan, during the trial period, only 10 out of 107 subsidized bus routes, or 156 buses in total, will be available for ads.
Ads are limited to 50 percent of the bus's exterior body area and reserved for Vietnamese products and services only. 
Phung Dang Hai, CEO of Ho Chi Minh City Transport Cooperative Union, also said it is a mistake to ban foreign products and services, because that policy will cut off a potentially large revenue source. 
The city, instead, should impose limits on ads which the public may find offensive, he said.
Le Quoc Viet, a marketing expert, also urged the city's authority to not impose restrictions on bus advertising, so its benefits will not be limited.
Not only bus advertising will satisfy part of businesses' increasing demand for advertising, its revenue will help reduce financial burdens on the city, which spends over VND1 trillion ($44.75 million) subsidizing local buses a year.

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