For many years, automobile license plates came in basically two colors. Each plate listed the state name at the top, the tag number in the middle, and perhaps a state motto on the bottom, such as “Land of Lincoln” (IL), “Constitution State” (CT), “Empire State” (NY), “Sunshine State” (FL), etc. That was it; simple and easy to read. Somewhere along the way though, license plates evolved into sophisticated bumper stickers which allowed their owners to proudly make a statement of some kind to the world. It started with vanity plates where the owner could pay a little extra to arrange the characters on the license plate to their liking. For example, since the “PRIDE” methodology was our main product for many years, we had an Ohio license plate made with the word printed on it. As nice as our plate looked, it was still nothing more than blue letters on white, or white on green (depending on the year we reordered it).

Somewhere in the 1980’s someone finally figured out that license plates lacked “pizzazz” and started introducing graphical images on the plates to make them look more appealing, a sort of p.r. tool for the states. In Florida, for example, a light green image of the state was placed in the middle of the plate with two oranges and blossoms over it to denote our famous citrus industry. This graphic has been with us for a long time now and has become an icon of the state. Many other states followed suit and soon a race was on as to who could design the most eye catching state license plate.

Even though vanity plates had been with us for some time, people next wanted to express their allegiance to a specific organization they belong to or a cause worth supporting, and to do so, a wide array of new plates were introduced which people could obtain, for a tidy fee. I suspect Florida is not too different than a lot of states in this regard. Now instead of a single plate, which is still available by default, people can purchase designer based license plates to support such things as the university they graduated from, a favorite professional sports team, branches of the military, a favorite conservation project, or some other special interest. In Florida alone there are 120 different types of designer plates available:

24 – Environmental (“Save the Florida Panther” or “Manatee”, etc.)36 – Universities (FSU, UF, USF, Miami, and many others)51 – Misc (military and charities)9 – Professional Sports (Tampa, Orlando, Miami, and Jacksonville)

120 – TOTAL

Soon there will be 121 for the “Veterans of Foreign Wars.” For environmental issues or charities, the extra money charged for the plate is donated to the cause, less the state’s cut. One of the more avant-garde license plates I’ve come across in Florida is the John Lennon “Imagine” plate which includes the iconic Lennon self portrait he drew years ago. I wasn’t exactly sure what this plate stood for; at first I thought Florida was now allowing people to put their favorite Rock and Roll band on license plates causing me to wonder if they had one for “Black Sabbath.” As it turned out, the Lennon plate supported Florida’s Food Banks in reference to Lennon’s lyrics, “Imagine no greed or hunger…”

It must be difficult for Florida state troopers to stay abreast of valid license plates. Not only must they stay abreast of the 120+ versions of Florida’s plates, but they have to keep an eye on all the permeations of northern “snowbird” plates as brought down during the winter months. I do not envy the troopers having to figure out what is a legitimate plate and which is a phony. I think I would be a bit suspicious if I saw the “Black Sabbath” plate.

The only other group affected by this are the state prisoners who are normally charged with manufacturing license plates. One good thing about the variety of tags now available though, it should certainly break up the monotony of having to produce a single plate. After all, we have to keep our prisoners busy, don’t we?

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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