Ads on eggs? They must be going bananas Some very strange methods are being used to get the message across to consumers . Martin Rosenbaum reports

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If you have been on a bus in Telford recently, you may have watched a TV screen next to the driver showing commercials for McDonald's or Glo-White stain remover. If you bought an egg from Tesco last month, you probably saw an ad for Sky TV on the shell. Or if you were in Croydon during National Condom Week in September, you might have noticed an ad for Durex trimmed into somebody's haircut.

These innovations are all part of the advertising industry's continuous search for novel ways to insinuate commercial messages into the daily lives of consumers. Ads have featured on everything from milk bottles to computer games, airships to escalator steps, phonecards to the backs of till receipts, and parking meters to the tops of sports stadiums on airport approaches. But today the industry is pursuing new and different advertising media to find those that are practical and help a product to stand out.

"Traditional media vehicles are becoming cluttered, so advertisers must look for different ways to communicate," says Tony Manwaring, director of strategy and planning at the media-buying agency Initiative Media. "There has been a massive proliferation Photograp and fragmentation of all types of media. But consumers do not consume more media; they are more selective in their diet and consume it less thoroughly. The challenge for advertisers is to create differentiation and impact. You may have to find more off-the-wall ways to talk to consumers."

Off the wall or not, the newest scheme is Bus-TV. Around 800 buses in the Midlands and North-west are being fitted with 14-inch television screens to play tapes of commercials and mini-programmes to passengers. Next year the idea will spread to another 3,200 buses run by operators across the country in the British Bus group. The full-scale launch follows a successful pilot test in Telford. The ads will generally be TV commercials, and the mini-programmes will range from cookery tips to quizzes. Tapes will be changed monthly.

"We think it is a world first," says Maurice Hawker, chief executive of The Original Passenger Picture Show (Topps), which runs the scheme. "The idea developed because British Bus asked me to look at ways to make buses more attractive for passengers and advertisers. It hasn't been done before because it was too costly, but we have found a company in Wales that has put the project together at one-third of the price the Japanese wanted. There is not much you can do if you don't want to listen, but we

hope it will be not much more of a distraction than Muzak in a hotel lounge."

Topps, which is examining how similar technology could be used in trains, is only the latest company to try to turn captive audiences into advertising revenues. Some projects have succeeded, such as the QTV television screens that have played commercialsto post office queues for more than a decade. Others have failed: a London Transport experiment to install television screens on tube platforms was quickly abandoned a few years ago. And some ideas just never get off the ground: Flight Ad International has yet to persuade a single airline to adopt its plan for putting ads on the backs of aircraft seats.

Joining captive audiences among the target groups for innovative media are golfers, who are popular with advertisers as they tend to be upmarket men with high disposable incomes. Established ideas include ads on tee markers and ball-washing machines, butthe latest gimmick is the ad in the hole.

Since the idea was launched in the spring, around 40 advertisers, from car dealers to golf-kit manufacturers, have placed messages on weatherproof plastic discs located at the bottom of golf holes on around 150 courses.

"Advertisers think it's more than an ad campaign - they also get the club-bar chatter," says Francis Parrett of Golf Media. "We have just signed up another six booze advertisers. After all, there's a natural connection between the 18th and 19th holes." Mr Parrett is not worried by the thought that some people see the ads after hitting a double bogey; they might just be losing deliberately to their bosses or clients.

Another small-scale medium that started this year could be described as the cutting edge of advertising. Cutverts, based in Croydon, Surrey, was established in July and now has more than 20 models willing to parade the streets with ads for products or companies shaved on to the back of their heads. Apart from Durex, advertisers have included lettings agents and a mobile phone company.

"It started as a joke, but it's done well," says the company's founder, Anthony Surage. "Our models are the sort of people who enjoy it and give it dedication. They are user-friendly - they stop and talk to passers-by."

Offbeat media tend either to be short-lived gimmicks or to last so long that they lose their eccentric status and become ordinary. To succeed, they have to find advertisers whose brand strategies fit with surprising or eccentric marketing. "If it's too wacky, it can damage the brand," says Mr Manwaring.

The other problem is verification. "Imagine trying to prove to advertisers that you really did produce 9 million eggs and sell them in the right places at the right time," says Tony Logie of the media consultancy Logie Bradshaw, which helped to establish"eggvertising".

So what could be the next ingredient in the marketing mix?

"Bananas", says Abraham Lomnitzer, chairman of Egg-vert UK, which has used its high-pressure jet printers and food-grade ink to put "eggverts" on more than 30 million eggs for BT, Hovis, Channel 4 and Sky. The company is examining which other coatings devised by Mother Nature can be used for human communication.

"We are researching bananas now," says Mr Lomnitzer. "The technology has been developed and can be used for all forms of `natural packaging'. It's simply a matter of how to apply it and getting the ink right. After bananas, well, I leave it to your imagination."

And just how much will the new advertising opportunities of the mid-Nineties set you back? Rates start from: £6,000 per million eggs for Eggverts; £300 for three golf holes for three months; £100 per model per day for Cutverts; and £11,600 for a 30-second ad on Bus TV, repeated every 18 minutes on 800 buses for a month.