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MARTA’s ads for alcohol mark Georgia’s evolving outlook on tolerance, temperance

By David Pendered

An apparent lifetime ago, in 2014, MARTA gingerly entered the world of allowing ads for alcohol on its vehicles and premises. The advertising contract is again out for bid, with provisions for alcohol, and no significant protests have emerged.

MARTA, alcohol ad

This is one of MARTA’s early alcohol ads, in 2014, and the community has continued to accept MARTA’s judgment in the ads that are allowed on vehicles and property. (File)

This situation is another indication that sentiments about alcohol are changing fairly quickly in Georgia.

The state remains a buckle of the Bible Belt in many ways, such as its current involvement in a case that explicitly requests the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.

Restrictions related to alcohol are waning.

Just this year, the Georgia Legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp approved a bill to allow cocktails to be packaged and sent home with a meal. The maximum is two cocktails per entree, according to Senate Bill 236.

These to-go cocktails are a milepost in the trajectory of change in attitudes about alcohol.

In 2018, a third of the House and Senate voted against allowing voters to decide if they want to allow cocktails to be sold before 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. The measure was dubbed the “Mimosa Mandate” and “Sunday Brunch Bill.” It did not open the floodgates of Sunday sales, but Senate Bill 17 did authorize local governments, those that already allowed Sunday sales to begin at 12:30 p.m., to put a question to voters about allowing sales to start at 11 a.m. on Sundays.

MARTA’s pending advertising contract provides for space on four cars of the Atlanta Streetcar. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

MARTA’s alcohol advertising does not aim to test the limit of local temperance concerns. The purpose of the advertising is to raise money to help cover operating costs, as it was when MARTA first authorized alcohol advertising. MARTA will be able to pull any ads it deems inappropriate, according to the request for proposal:

  • “MARTA reserves the right to suspend alcohol advertising due to municipality, community complaints or for any other reason in MARTA’s sole discretion including, without limitation, the potential for there to be a negative impact on MARTA’s image or that of its riders or employees.”

This provision comports with MARTA’s overall control of advertising content:

  • “MARTA reserves the right to require removal of any advertising deemed to be inappropriate or not in keeping with the Authority’s image. The Contractor will be notified in writing by MARTA and shall remove the advertisement within ten (10) days of the notice to remove.”

MARTA intends to continue the current regulations of the density of alcohol messaging and related content, according to the RFP:

  • “No more than 20% of the category inventory (i.e., bus wraps, dioramas, digital, bus cards etc.) is available at any one time.
  • “Only general coverage is allowed (no geographical targeting).
  • “’Drink Responsibly’ message must be included in all advertising copy at a level and prominence acceptable to MARTA.”
marta five points ad

MARTA is seeking an advertising company to help sell and manage content on transit stations, including the revised Five Points Station. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The selection process is moving forward. Aug. 10 was the deadline for proposals and 10 proponents had attended a pre-bid conference. Ads can be sold for the following areas, according to the RFP:

  • “Exterior and interior static signs on rail cars, buses and four (4) street cars;
  • “External static signs on MARTA’s Paratransit Fleet;
  • “Static signs within MARTA thirty-eight (38) rail stations to include twenty (20) digital displays at three (3) stations.”

The criteria also include:

  • “Installation of new electronic digital displays (at the Proponent’s expense) in MARTA rail stations or other approved areas and to subsequently sell associated digital advertisement space as stipulated by the Contract;
  • [A]ds that adhere to the MARTA Advertising Policy but are also creatively pleasing and tastefully presented.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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