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September 04, 2007

This Airport Is Sponsored By ...

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

During a recent bout of air travel I amused myself by keeping track of the ads I ran into -- more particularly, where they were physically placed. Microsoft, for example, had a big production number happenin' all around a lengthy stretch of moving sidewalk.


No way for the air traveler to avoid a pretty intense encounter with that particular ad campaign.

Out at the gates, Sprint's message was a lot louder than the gate information.


My favorite -- "favorite" as in "Come on, enough's enough" -- ad-placement, though, was this one:


That's an ad in the bottom of the tray used at the security and metal-detection bottleneck -- the tray you dump your change and shoes into before being scanned for liquids and pointy objects.

Can you imagine being the person whose job it is to sell airport ad space? "Hey Eliza, it's Blake. Look, I want to let you in on a special promotion we're offering this week. We've finally got the go-ahead to sell ads on the customers' luggage. If your bosses pull the trigger in the next 24 hours, I'll give you an exclusive on the porcelain in the urinals too. I'll get back to you next week on that secret thing I'm working on. What? OK, but keep it just between us: What I'm angling to do is sell ad space on the backsides of the pilots' pants."

How do you feel (and what do you think, of course) about the way ads seem to show up in more and more places?

As for me, well, 2Blowhards deliberately doesn't run any ads. This is partly a matter of principle, I suppose, though we certainly have nothing against anyone else running them, particularly people who can genuinely use the money. (Not that any of this is any of our business, of course.) Mainly, though, and at least for me, it's an aesthetic judgment -- we do take aesthetics pretty seriously around here. For one thing: Aren't there enough ads around already? For another: Ads create clutter. And, especially when indulging in aesthetic and intellectual reflection, isn't it far nicer to do so in a classy and calm environment? Values other than money, efficiency, and convenience sometimes really do need to prevail.

The whole debate about where ads can go is one that interests me a lot, not that I have much to add to it. Generally speaking I wish people would show more taste and restraint than they often do. All that said ... Lordy, give 'em the smallest opening, and commercial forces will weasel their way in everywhere. Besides, what's a free-wheeling yet aesthetics-oriented person to make of this perennial conundrum: Strict zoning and tight regulations can be an oppressive drag, yet complete free-for-alls quickly turn ugly. (Hey, did you know that Sao Paulo recently placed a wide-ranging ban on outdoor advertising? I wonder how it will work out.)

The gray zone between public and private is an interesting one to contemplate in this regard. For example: If we're OK with the idea that an airport -- a public facility so far as practical usage is concerned, no matter what the underlying legal-financial arrangements are -- should be wide-open to advertisements, what basis do we have for refusing ads on the walls of City Hall?

Edging more in the personal direction ... Would you let someone buy ad space on your living room wall? If not, why not? How would you react if someone offered to pay you well in exchange for placing ads on the outside of your house? And how would you feel about it if your next door neighbor sold advertising space on the outside of his house? If such an act should distress you, do you just tough it out, or do you have a remedy in mind?

In a general way, I'm all for avoiding rules and regs whenever possible, and for opting for looser rather than tighter ones whenever rules really are necessary. Yet I'm often appalled by our eagerness (or so it seems) to give so much of our audiovisual space over to commercial hucksterism; I'm double-appalled by the audiovisual racket that results. So my preferred response to the problem is: Let advertising be legal everywhere -- and then let's all refuse to sell the space.

Fat chance of that kind of arrangement ever working out to my liking, though ...



posted by Michael at September 4, 2007


The most offensive adspace to appear in a long time is the revolving banner ads placed on the wall behind the batter in baseball parks. This ensures that the viewer must eat a sales pitch along with every thrown pitch.

This just seems like sacrilege to me. The Cubs even do this at Wrigley Field.

It's ugly and it distracts from the game.

Traditionally, ballpark fences were plastered with advertisements. In the modern era, these advertisements have largely disappeared. Advertisements should not be on the field of play.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 4, 2007 3:11 PM

I haven't seen anyone covering their house with ads (yet), but out here in the 'burbs commuter cars covered with advertising are becoming increasingly common. Not spreading like wildfire -- but I noticed my first one a few years ago, and now I see several each day.

Personally I'd be mortified to be seen climbing out of one of these ad-mobiles, but I do wonder what people are getting for their trouble. Are they employed by the company in question? Are they getting a fee? Or both?

Also, some overzealous marketing-type parents at my kids' elementary school had the brilliant idea of hanging advertising banners across the front of the school as "payment" for company "donations" to the school. The wife (and many others) went ballistic -- and yet several people were obviously fine with the idea.

Boundaries against advertising anywhere and everywhere are obviously eroding.

Posted by: Steve on September 4, 2007 3:34 PM

"Let advertising be legal anywhere -- and then let's all refuse to sell the space." I couldn't agree more. So far as I can, I don't even wear clothes that have labels in the outside, informing the world that these are Dockers, Adidas, or whatever. I figure that's advertising, too.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 4, 2007 3:36 PM

I read a sci-fi book once where people could buy necklaces that would repel advertising images. The guy who invents this for real will get my money in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on September 4, 2007 3:36 PM

Do you recall the controversy a few years back when, in a World Series game, the virtual ad on the wall behind the batter was for Amy McBeal? A giant close-up of McBeal smiling impishly, almost sinisterly, behind the batter.
There was a minor controversy over it, and I think it woke the league up to the potential for these ads to muck up the aesthetic of the game.

There's a hidden cost to the sort of residual message an ad leaves behind, altering its host. Hard to measure against the kind of money paid in the here and now, I think is the problem.

Somehow I don't think our future is going to be cluttered with ads, as it appears we're headed for now. Something has got to give, and the mass-media advertisement may be economical now, but it is a crude instrument with a lot of room for increased efficiency; it is still essentially leafleting and carpet bombing.

Posted by: Dennis on September 4, 2007 8:16 PM

"How do you feel (and what do you think, of course) about the way ads seem to show up in more and more places?"

It shows all the desperation of the end of a bubble.

Customers are paying less and less attention to ads. Advertising, which has always had a statistically tenuous association with sales, is growing less and less relevant to sales -- and more and more difficult to justify the spending of shareholder's equity upon.

We're a sufficiently litigious society that I suspect a whole wave of shareholder's lawsuits may be coming. I suspect the ad agencies (and ad-based companies like Google) feel this cold wind as well, and are thus riding the tiger for all it's worth.

Quick question: Name your favorite TV ad for Starbucks' coffeehouses.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien on September 4, 2007 9:52 PM

Nobody move. It's a trick (question).

Posted by: Dennis on September 4, 2007 10:46 PM

I don't like those revolving banner ads during baseball games. Placard ads on the fences, well, they're a traditional part of the sport and largely inoffensive.

As much as I loathe the NFL, their "clean field" policy - no advertisements are visible on or near the field of play - is nice ... of course, with one hour of TV commercials during the course of a game, not counting those during halftime, the NFL doesn't need to have on-field ads.

Posted by: Peter on September 4, 2007 10:47 PM

Customers are paying less and less attention to ads.

On the other hand, I like looking at ads sometimes just to see how much stupider they've gotten. 100% agreement here about desperation at the end of the bubble.

Posted by: Scott on September 4, 2007 11:04 PM

What bugs me as much or more than the ads are the TV sets, especially if they're showing CNN. Sports broadcasts I don't mind so much. The Weather Channel might be most useful for travelers if there must be TVs in terminals.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on September 4, 2007 11:15 PM

Albania used to be good for avoiding product advertising. Not sure about now. Maybe...maybe North Korea?

And it's not all bad, is it? I mean, Virgin Air is now advertising carbon-offsets. Surely all the Left Coasters and Manhattanites wouldn't want to miss that kind of information while they loll in the departure lounge or poke about the duty-free.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 5, 2007 1:58 AM

MB, did you see this post, or it's just the normal blogging coincedence?

Posted by: Tatyana on September 5, 2007 10:08 AM

Having ads on the bottom of the security trays seems to increase the likelihood that people will leave things behind.

Posted by: Peter on September 5, 2007 10:37 AM

I think airport ads are particularly intrusive (but also more memorable) because they are so BIG. Much, much bigger space than a magazine ad, say. Very few places which have as much wallspace as an airport engage in advertising as much. I mean, they could take the paintings down off the local library walls and hang big lit-up ads for Sprint, but it hasn't happened. I think its because of the marketing demographic. Lots and lots of business travellers, who I guess are the target for investment funds and consulting firms and cell phones and hotels, and also who might want to know what the most popular local restaurants are. Not the same demographic as the local library.

Posted by: annette on September 5, 2007 10:47 AM

Since their inception I've hated the ads that dart across the bottom of the screen during a TV show. They deliberately pull you attention from the show, so you can't really immerse yourself. I bet it kneecaps many of the shows that allow it, and the stations don't realize it, as in, "Gosh, our numbers are way down. And we thought this show would be a hit." Well, if Mr. Bean hadn't flashed us during the big dramatic scene, it may have occurred to me to tune in again.

Posted by: yahmdallah on September 5, 2007 11:18 AM

MB: the tray you dump your change and shoes into before being scanned for liquids and pointy objects.

How bout placing ads on pointy objects which, when stimulated, eject liquids?

Also, "Eliza" & "Blake"? Onomastics, a field beggin for a renaissance.

Posted by: playrink on September 5, 2007 2:14 PM

It's been some while since I worked in advertising and I am no insider these days, but I imagine there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth (even more than there always has been) at ad agencies. Advertising has become like water to a fish. Most of it goes unnoticed. Channel surfing and time shifting further dilute the effect of ads — you can make a multi-million dollar ad buy on a "top rated" program, but the Nielsens are almost meaningless when the technology, not to mention audience media sophistication, make it natural to ignore or avoid commercials.

Even when TV commercials are entertaining, and many are clever, does anyone take them seriously enough to buy the product as a result? I suspect that viewers just enjoy the commercials for their own sake, and aren't motivated by them.

So the trend toward ads, especially signage, in public places with a captive audience is understandable. We will probably see more and more branded spaces and items as marketers conclude that they offer far more reach per dollar than conventional print or TV advertising.

This comment has been brought to you by Save Our Blogspace, Inc. A not-for-profit, 501c(3) corporation, with offices in the Bradbury Building, Sears Tower, 1 Broadway, and the South Dakota Corn Palace, SOB sponsors white space at more than 2,500 blog sites. Won't you donate today?

Posted by: Rick Darby on September 5, 2007 5:45 PM

Look for a lot more embedding; celebrities paid to mention products in passing on talk shows for instance. A bizarre form that may morph into all sorts of grotesqueries. As for celebrities, I hear that guy from the Godfather cruelling saying "...let them lose their souls."
People might pay to plant mentions (if they aren't already) in books, articles, blog posts even.
Because it's all about mobility; in fact I'm posting this on my new Powerbook, sipping an ice cold Mountain Dew in the cool, pleasant confines of my favorite Taco Bell, enjoying their new Gachas Burrito El Grande--wait a minute, this is turning into a friggin' Tom Friedman book.

Posted by: Dennis on September 5, 2007 8:46 PM

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