NASCAR.gov: Should corporate logos be on government sites?

While visiting many government Web sites since working on GovFresh, I occasionally see a vendor’s corporate logo. I can understand usage when embedding widgets, especially free ones, or incorporating social media icons to communicate to the public how they can connect with them. What’s not clear to me is the usage related to taxpayer-funded vendor services.

Are there other examples of vendor logos on government sites? Are there regulations around this? Is this appropriate? If so, in what circumstances?

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About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh and co-founder/CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

8 thoughts on “NASCAR.gov: Should corporate logos be on government sites?

  1. I don’t want to name any names, but I’m sometimes bugged by the same thing.

    I understand the importance of branding very well, so I understand vendors’ motivation to get a lot of brand impressions, but you make a very important point: what good does this do for citizens?

    It seems that many common govt vendor logos are placed as signals to other agencies (potential clients)—they don’t matter to citizens and could ultimately be confusing, particularly for vendors with governmentesque names.

    I don’t think we need any regulation about this, but I think it’s important to recognize how conspicuous vendor branding might be confusing to users.

  2. Well, one thing it could do is provide a level of trust. If I see that Forsee is conducting a survey (to take Luke’s example), I can google them, find out more info and see that they are trusted provider of services before I decide whether or not to participate.

    Same when the agency goes to present their results, using market-leading firms can inspire confidence in the resultant product. In this context, a recognized logo (and we can argue if the example is well-recognized or not) is a visual shortcut much like Verisign’s check logo, etc.

    If services were provided by StevesInternetSurveyCorp, perhaps users might react differently when asked to participate, and others might react differently when looking at how $ were spent (e.g. why didn’t you use more well-established firm for these services).

  3. I appreciate your optimistic take, Steve, but I think you may be reaching a bit too far for altruism that probably isn’t there. In Luke’s example, ForeSee has already been chosen. Googling them after the fact seems moot. Furthermore, government vetting of vendors is quite robust.

    ForeSee is clearly *advertising* the fact that they did the survey. That may or may not be appropriate. I think we’ll see more examples of deals cut in exchange for promotion. ForeSee is getting paid to do the survey. Did they offer a discount in exchange for advertising? Or, are they paid AND promoted through our tax dollars? TSA sells the space on the bins used in airports. In that case, government is profiting. There is an initiative in my city to sell ad rights to the municipal softball fields. I think a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable with these kinds of blurring of the lines (I’m one of them), but it may be inevitable.

    On the flip side, I think that I would like to see vendors who create and maintain website to be clearly identified on those sites; but not as branding.

  4. This is a good discussion to have, and while we’re on it there may be some value in considering the amount of implicit advertising that happens on government web sites.

    Consider the scenario when a government posts documents in Adobe Acrobat format (or MS Word, or Excel for that matter) – isn’t it “advertising” that is happening when the government tells you that you need to download a piece of software from a third-part vendor to view the documents they post?

    This happens a lot.

    I think this is an important point to make when thinking about open formats for government data. “Open” (at least to my way of thinking) means you don’t need a third-party software product to view it.

  5. Thanks guys. This is great.

    Regarding Steve’s comments on trust, my assumption is that the service has been vetted by the agency or procurement process and just assume it’s ‘trusted.’

    I agree with Jed and his point about vendors advertising to other agencies. Essentially, it’s a seal of approval, despite the fact the agency might find the product doesn’t meet its expectations, but can’t explicitly say so. They may be stuck with it because of contract or procurement stipulations.

    As Kevin says, the lines are blurring, especially with budgetary limitations, government will have to get creative, much like schools have been forced to do. I’m not sure what the solution is, especially if a vendor is giving the service/product for free or at significant discount. Perhaps it’s a single ‘Partners’ page like many corporations do. If we’re thinking pie-in-the-sky, it would be nice to have a dashboard on the department’s sentiment regarding vendor deliverables. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some transparency in department satisfaction towards a product or service? That’s a whole different post.

    Mark, your point about formats and endorsement brings up an interesting point. That, again, is an entire post. Email me [luke at govfresh] if you’d like to write more about it.

  6. I’ve been thinking about these questions for awhile as I watched government websites get plastered with logos from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, iTunes, MySpace, etc. Is this implicit endorsement of these for-profit companies? Is it free advertising? Or is it something different because the services are free? Should other vendors with legitimate contracts with government who have been vetted through a procurement process be allowed to have their logos somewhere? Lots of interesting questions…

  7. Andy,

    The social media logos debate will become more of a point of contention over time (sooner than later). Regarding logos from vetted vendors, don’t think they should be getting paid taxpayer dollars AND get logo placements (as Kevin mentions). I’m not familiar with the procurement process, but what if an agency thinks the vendor is doing a poor job, but the logo’s on the site? Other agencies will assume they’re legitimate unless they do due diligence.

    Bottom line: You got a contract, do the work. Attaching logos to your service is opportunistic.

    I think Kevin’s point about indicating vendors on the site might be fine if there was a transparent, on-going, open performance evaluation.

    That would be brilliant on many levels.

    Luke

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