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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rail ads reaching much of the public

 •  Favorable poll results surprise rail backers
 •  Most in Honolulu say they won't use rail regularly, poll shows
 •  76% of Oahu voters want rail on ballot

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Do O'ahu residents support the city's plan to build a $3.7 billion commuter rail?

Day 2 yesterday

Will residents, especially those near transit stops, ride the rail if it is built?

Day 3 today

How have pro-rail and anti-rail ads impacted community perception?

Day 4 tomorrow

Has the rail campaign changed the perception of Mayor Mufi Hannemann?

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Ads for and against rail have been at the center of controversy. Should tax dollars be used to promote rail? Stacy Loe asks the question tonight on KGMB9.

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Proponents and opponents of Honolulu's planned $3.7 billion commuter rail system have saturated Hawai'i airwaves with advertising.

Two-thirds of those interviewed in the Hawai'i Poll have seen or heard rail-related ads. Another 16 percent have heard or seen something about the print, radio and TV ads.

"There are companies that have advertised for years that would kill to have recall like this," said Rebecca Ward, president for Ward Research, which conducted the Hawai'i Poll. "In a population as diverse as we are, for two-thirds to have said they've seen the ads, that's really high penetration,"

The bulk of rail-related advertising has been paid for by pro-rail groups, including the city, Mayor Mufi Hannemann's re-election campaign and construction groups such as the Hawaii Carpenters Union. For example:

  • The city spent $1.4 million in taxpayer money from August 2005 through February 2008 on public relations and outreach efforts. In addition, the city paid about $120,000 from March to June, primarily for radio advertisements.

  • Most pro-rail television and print ads have been paid for either by pro-transit groups or Mayor Mufi Hannemann's re-election campaign.

  • The Hawaii Carpenters Union, with 7,800 members, has launched 280 pro-rail TV ads estimated to cost several hundred thousand dollars.

    The anti-rail campaign has been driven by Stop Rail Now, which has raised about $60,000 since April, according to group organizers. About $32,000 of that was spent on an advertising campaign that's consisted primarily of print ads.


    According to the Hawai'i Poll, there's nearly 2-to-1 support for the elevated commuter rail project among residents. It's likely the pro-rail ads helped shape the strong support for rail, Ward said.

    "You can't spend that much money and have that kind of saturation without some kind of influence, and we know who spent more money," she said.

    Proponents and opponents of the rail project have accused each other of misleading the public and some have questioned whether it's appropriate for the city to promote rail. However, poll participants were nearly evenly split over whether it's appropriate for the city to fund an ad campaign in support of the rail project.

    About 50 percent of respondents who were aware of the ads approved of the city funding an ad campaign supporting rail. That compares with 47 percent opposed to a city-funded ad campaign for rail. The difference was within the poll's margin of error.

    Hannemann defended the city's rail-related communications effort yesterday as key to informing residents on the planned rail system. Some of the public outreach efforts are mandated by the federal government, which is expected to pay for a portion of the mass-transit system, he said. The city's public relations effort includes radio ads and the "Honolulu On the Move" afternoon radio show on KHVH-AM 830.


    Hannemann acknowledged that "obviously there is a mixed opinion out there" about the spending of city dollars on pro-rail advertisements.

    "The fact of the matter is we are required by the Federal Transit Administration to have a public involvement and education process, that's a requirement for federal funds."

    He noted that the city has only paid primarily for radio advertisements, and that all television and nearly all print ads have been paid for either by pro-transit groups or his own campaign.

    The city will continue to conduct "public advocacy" as the planning and building of the rail line continues.

    "This is a necessary component and more so because of the fervor of those who do not want us to do rail, it's important for us to get out the facts," the mayor said.

    Support for the city's ad campaign was strongest among those living along the proposed route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana, according to the Hawai'i Poll.

    Opposition was high among respondents with reported household incomes of $100,000 or more, who disapproved of a city-sponsored rail campaign.

    results skewed?

    Critics contend the city's public outreach and education effort has blurred the lines between providing public information and outright promotion of the project.

    Concerns about city-sponsored ads prompted the City Council to pass a measure this year that requires the city to include a disclaimer informing the public if an advertisement was paid for by "city taxpayers." The disclaimer rule was introduced by Councilman Charles Djou and took effect June 19.

    City Council chairwoman Barbara Marshall, who opposes the rail project, said the poll was conducted on the heels of a major pro-rail ad blitz that could have skewed the results.

    "I'm not at all surprised that it (the results in favor of rail) would be that way given the onslaught of media advertisement in favor of rail that's been paid for by the city and by the mayor and by the various factions supporting" rail, Marshall said. "It seems like every time you turn on the TV, there's been an advertisement."

    Carol Anne Dixon, a University of Hawai'i professor of retailing and international trade, said there's likely a correlation between pro-rail ads and pro-rail public support.

    "I think there is," she said. "What the ads do is they draw the lines in the sand. Unfortunately, they're not informational. I do think the ads have caused people to stop and think about what does all this mean."

    Advertiser Staff Writer Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report

    Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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