Marketers are a creative bunch. Having been a digital media strategist and e-mail marketing manager for nearly 15 years, I’m always noticing new and innovative ways that the advertising world reaches consumers. Once you’ve been in the field for awhile, it’s hard not to think of the physical areas where people slow down and congregate as ad “avails,” and it’s always fascinating to see how other advertising professionals are thinking about public spaces and using them to stay in front of the crowd.
Let’s explore a few innovative offline ways that advertisers reach audiences today. Some of them have been around awhile, and some are new on the scene, but all reflect a drive to stay in front of the consumer in an ever-increasing competitive landscape where attention spans are short and distractions high.
TSA screening bins
Wasn’t this inevitable? Those dull gray bins that are the receptacles for cell phones, laptops, shoes and belts make great little rotating billboards. I noticed my first “bin-bottom” advert about six months ago on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago. I’m surprised it took this long for the industry to realize bored, anxious consumers standing in line in the comfort of stocking feet might make a receptive (albeit captive) audience. Voila! A new form of advertising is born from the new realities of air travel and airline security.
I’m not an avid mall shopper, so I may be well behind the curve on advertisers sponsoring individual parking spaces or even entire levels of parking structures. I first noticed these branded spaces about two years ago and my initial thought was, “Well, why not?” It’s a great way for shoppers to remember where they parked their car (“Weren’t we parked in the Pizza Hut space on the Pepsi level?”). What a delicious mnemonic device.
This isn’t the latest method of advertising, but it’s one of the first I remember noticing in the new league of smaller, slightly bolder physical marketing. You usually find these near the dairy products or frozen food aisles of your supermarket. They often complement horizontally what we see vertically, adding a reinforcing component to those coupon-dispensing machines or eye-level product placements. When you think about it, this is another stroke of genius—the aisles of most supermarkets are wide, the clean floors glisten with overhead lighting and little kids (closer to the floor already) are all-too-eager to alert mom or dad to what they’ve stumbled upon.
Shopping cart handles
If successful advertising really is about the sheer number of eyeballs hitting a logo or marketing message, then the person who thought of advertising on shopping carts surely got a big bonus. We shop when we’re in a hurry, we shop when we’re bored, we shop when we’re stocking up for the week—and most of us grab a cart to do it. Advertising on the very space where we lay our hands is putting the message on our pulse—literally.
Perfect for cash-strapped municipalities, restaurants, electronics stores, coffee shops and booksellers are lining up to patch those potholes with fresh asphalt that’s sealed with an ad. I can’t think of a better way to create instant goodwill than fixing and then branding a section of street where I otherwise might have popped a tire or bent an axle. At the risk of showing my age, could this be the new millennium’s answer to Brylcreem billboards? Tell me a story along the way or write a jingle about how my favorite shampoo will not only detangle my hair; it will smooth out my commute too. Brilliant!
In-store digital signage
Once reserved for hot shot advertisers on Times Square, a new generation of thinner, lighter and cheaper LCD and plasma TV technology is making smaller electronic “billboards” commonplace. Big-box stores use them to sell everything from groceries to face cream. This really is the ultimate in tailored messaging. The ad can change on a whim. It talks, it sings, it can communicate more information than any other type of message in the same space. To say these mini-billboards will become ubiquitous parts of our retail landscape in just two or three more years isn’t much of a leap.
We’re becoming a society that’s simultaneously saturated with advertising and is savvier about its techniques. Advertisers will continue to innovate how their messages are delivered, and direct those messages in smarter, more novel and more highly-targeted ways. This evolution will continue to change our public and private spaces—and keep old marketing folks like me wondering what’s next and small business owners like you wondering how to develop surprising ad avails of your own.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Waits runs a small online antiques business.