The hunt for better number plates

LINCOLN - A leading Nebraska advertising executive is urging a design do-over for the new state number plates.

Jim Lauerman, chief executive officer of Bailey Lauerman of Omaha and Lincoln, said the four "embarrassing" designs now being considered should be scrapped as not bumper-worthy.

Instead, Lauerman offered to enlist graphic artists from the state's top marketing firms to, at no charge, design new number plates that would convey a sharper image for the state.

"This is an opportunity for millions and millions of exposures to express your (state) brand. Why wouldn't you take that opportunity?" said Lauerman, who grew up in the farm town of Stromsburg, Neb.

His offer - the latest criticism of the design of the number plates - landed with a thud on the doorstep of Gov. Dave Heineman, who was out of his Capitol office on Thursday.

"The governor has made his comments on this issue," said his spokeswoman, Jen Rae Hein.

Translation: He likes the four designs submitted, as he's said before. He's sticking to his number-plate-picking-guns, even though naysayers have sent a wave of critical letters and e-mails to The World-Herald and other newspapers with regards to the number plates.

"We're giving the choice to the people," said Hein. "We recognize that everyone is not going to be happy. It's just reality that there's going to be difference of opinion on design tastes."

Citizens have until midnight Sunday to pick the winning design via an Internet poll. A press conference is planned Tuesday to unveil the winner.

Lauerman, who's golfed with Heineman and whose firm designed the Nebraska 1996 number plates, said the 2011 plates needs some professional help. Two of the final four designs were fashioned by amateurs. The other two were developed by a state vendor and the DMV.

"There's no one big clarifying impression when you look at any one of the contenders," Lauerman said.

Simplicity in the design of number plates is important, he said, as is conveying a smart, successful image.

Picking the winning number plates has always been a contentious issue. State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine said she's glad it's the governor's job and not one for the 49 legislators.

"It would be the longest debate we would have," Fischer said.

Tin-plate debates are about as Nebraskan as second-guessing the Husker football coach.

In 1980s, there was whining that a windmill on the number plates didn't resemble the ones built in Nebraska. There was debate about dropping "The Good Life" slogan. Astronomers griped that the moon and sunset were incorrectly aligned on the 2002 number plates.

Hein said the governor has fielded only one complaint about the 2011 number plates , and that was someone who called in to his monthly radio show Monday to suggest that smaller number plates could save the state money.

Lauerman said he knows that design can be strongly debated. He said he's seen meetings erupt into "Animal House food fights" over logo designs.

But Nebraska would be better served by calling in some pros.

"People who are well qualified to make these designs should be employed," he said.

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