What kind of world do we live in where something called “ass-vertising” is a tried and true marketing method? Seasoned marketing veterans, with MBAs tucked away in their pockets, have raised a collective thumbs-up to putting their companies’ logos on the business-end of skimpy panties, which are then flashed by curvy beauties in the streets and malls of America. They have paid teenagers to paint logos onto their foreheads and walk around campuses, drawing stares and heckles from their peers. There are ads on vomit bags and tray tables in airplanes, and there are ads on toilet paper. There is Eggvertising (yeah, ads on eggs!) and there are ads on the back of corporate pay cheques. Last year, a USA Network campaign for a show called “Traffic: The Miniseries” affixed 50,000 one-dollar bills with peel-off stickers stamped with air date, time and channel. The bills were then introduced into circulation at bars in New York and Los Angeles.
You can get your wedding sponsored by a brand. You can wrap a 70-story office tower with mesh fabric to make it look like a Pepsi bottle. A 22-year-old Illinois man named Jim Nelson auctioned off “ad space” on the back of his head off of eBay last year. The winning bidder, web hosting firm CI Host, was granted a 5-inch square on the back of Nelson’s noggin, which he permanently tattooed with the companies logo and tagline. His contract with the firm stipulates that he must keep the tattoo visible for at least five years. The successful sale of head-space promoted one company to offer tattoo advertising to hundreds of corporate clients. According to the website for TatAd, a company specializing in something called “Tattoovertising,” the company is “revolutionizing advertising and the relationship between customer and company. Tattooing is the perfect way to do it. It’s that simple, we’re all walking billboards anyway so why not get paid to do it.” The company specializes in matching people, based on where they live and their lifestyle choices, with marketers who are interested in getting their logos and icons permanently tattooed on strangers. So far, about one thousand people have offered up skin-space on the site. If you can brand the human body, you can brand anything.
To the pessimist, it looks like marketing has reached an all-time low, and to a certain extent, it has. But the very fact that the reach of marketing has spread into “everywhere” means that barriers have been broken, new ground has been staked and the battlefield has now reached epic proportions. Marketers haven’t run out of ideas or media; they’re just thinking of new and radical ones at break-neck speed.
Even the toilet – probably the last bastion of privacy – is no longer a refuge from the ad-weary consumer. Marketers like Sony Music, Unilever and Nintendo are buying up ad space on stall walls and urinal mats (yes, urinal mats!) to attract an audience that is “captive to its biological needs.” The Indoor Billboard Advertising Association estimates that North America revenues from bathroom advertising is still relatively small — $50 million in 2004, compared to the $5.5 billion spent on outdoor advertising – but the practice is on the rise, up 14% from 2003, which rose 12% over the year before. It seems that brands don’t mind if they’re peed on, as long as someone sees the logo.
So in this world of assvertising and urinal branding, is adversting dead? Is it too far-gone to even matter anymore? Or are these ploys and "new media" the next level of marketing? Basically, as ad folks and marketers, are we screwed…or are we saved?