Crap Advertising: The City Launches a Campaign to Teach Us What a Sewer Is

Spotting ads for the sewer system on the side of a Muni bus is jarring: Simply put, what's the need to advertise the presence of the city's sewer system?

Is this a plea from Muni for passengers to ease up on its seats and flooring? Do we have options with regards to where our toilets flow? Is there a cool, privatized sewer line we could be using instead?

The answers are "no," "no," and "the disruptive economy doesn't do so well with infrastructure."

Rather, the impetus for the $65,000 Public Utilities Commission ad campaign — which features noisome puns voiced by an anthropomorphic sewer, such as "Your #2 is my #1" and "Nobody deals with more crap than I do" — is counterintuitive. "We want everyone to have a voice in the future of our sewer system," says PUC spokesman Tyrone Jue.

Most people are happy enough that sewer systems merely exist to whisk away waste — their overtly stated goal for the past 3,000 years and change. But, in San Francisco, public participation knows no bounds. As the PUC prepares to spend billions in bond money upgrading the system and its treatment facilities, Jue says public input is desired on how that money should be directed. Rather than building walls around future sewage plants, which make people feel unwelcome, perhaps "we can open parts of it. We want people to be proud of the fact this is a sewage treatment plant. Most people just think there's a smell coming out of that plant. We want you to know what it is behind the walls that causes that smell."

Most people could likely guess the source of that smell. If being granted more access to the source of a horrid fecal odor sounds suboptimal, perhaps the PUC needs to hear your voice regarding that, too.

Any additional pride in San Francisco's sewer system brought about by this punny campaign isn't being felt by non-English-speakers, incidentally. A straightforward ad reading "You can't live a day without me" was translated into Chinese and Spanish. The two jokey bits above were not, due to "cultural sensitivities." The term "No. 2" doesn't quite translate into other languages (though it is used in Hong Kong much as it is here). And, in both Spanish and Chinese, there isn't a word like "crap" with the unique double meaning of "unwanted, bothersome things" and "feces."

Toilet humor, like toilets themselves, must have an American standard.

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