It's not what you do, it's the place that you do it

You can run but you can't hide from the advertising 'terrorists'. Jim Davies reports
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The Independent Online
Too many ads in too many places? Please. They've barely started. Last Thursday, at the Lancaster House Hotel in London, the Red Cross launched a scheme that promises an explosion of advertisements in sites chosen to bringthe punter up short. And it is all in a good cause. HelpAd is a programme designed by the Red Cross whereby brands can sell space on their packaging to other brands and then donate the proceedings to charity.

Does the idea work? Well, it certainly grabs the attention if there is "synergy" between the two products. HelpAd's promotional literature, for instance, shows Diocalm advertised on an Andrex two-pack, and the word Lurpak baked into the side of a Hovis loaf.

The first genuine pairing to sign for the project are Coalite, the smokeless fuel, and Zip firelighters. "It's a brand marriage," explains Nick Ross, commercial director of Coalite. "We've worked with Zip for years and this was an opportunity to align ourselves with them, as well as being associated with a good cause." Expect to see Marmite ads on packs of Shredded Wheat imminently, and more newlyweds arriving in April.

What HelpAd is doing might seem new, but the scheme is actually taking advantage of a trend in "unusual" sites - what the industry has taken to calling "terrorist advertising". For example: in November last year, one advertisement boldly went where no ad has gone before. The European- built Maxus II rocket cut through the sky above Esrange in northern Sweden, emblazoned with a 26-square-metre poster for People Cellular and Computer, a Scandinavian communications company. Site price? Bidding began at $1m, but went higher. After all, the advertiser was also paying for a page in the history books.

Advertising has had to take to space because the earth is saturated. A recent US study reports that urban Americans are bombarded with 13,000 commercials per day. The figure includes advertisements, logos and sundry corporate plugs but, even so, it makes you wonder what advertising agencies need to do to cut through the babble.

Answer: shock, surprise and startle the consumer. Today, as one senior media strategist observes, "it ain't what you do, it's the place that you put it".

These days nothing is too obscure - or too sacred - to be turned into a surrogate billboard. Think you can escape by skipping to the loo, my darling? No. Bates Dorland, the agency that looks after the interests of Dixel toilet paper, has identified a sitting target and placed ads on the inside of loo doors in London's airports.

Meanwhile, back at the urinals, eye-level adverts positioned directly above the porcelain are an unwelcome addition, although the punter who does not know quite where to look now has a legitimate focus.

The hapless commuter is also in the firing line. If you "go to work on an egg", the first ad of the day you are likely to encounter may be printed on its shell, courtesy of Eggvert. But close the front door behind you and the real battering begins. Fruitopia, the Coca-Cola-owned fruit drink, scored a first last year by buying the tops of bus shelters. "It sat very well with the product," says Dan Brook, an account director at St Luke's. "Like Fruitopia, it's a bit unusual."

Indeed. But for how long, if it continues to be exploited so mercilessly? Mark Whelan, an account director at Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, explains the logic. "You're fighting for a share of voice among the clutter. Television is expensive. Using unconventional media can be a good a way of getting better value for money." Although coverage will not be as extensive as TV, Whelan maintains that word-of-mouth and editorial interest make up for it. "If your ad is talked about, you're winning. Look, Fox Broadcasting had a Boeing 737 painted bright yellow with the Simpson Family characters all over it. Not a lot of people saw it, but it got a hell of a lot of media space."

True, though the best-laid plans can go awry. Both the Economist and the Guardian have snapped up space on the tops of London buses. The Economist ad read - of course - "Hello to all our readers in high places". Unfortunately, the bus crashed. Most Londoners' recollection of the ad is from the evening news, when it was seen upside-down on a capsized bus.

Still in London, Duracell dominates Warren Street Tube station, a pun on the cutesie battery-operated bunny that goes on and on. As well as posters, adverts flash up on electronic timetables as Tube travellers wait. United Airlines went a step further: it painted and upholstered an entire Tube train on the Piccadilly line. As British Rail's privatisation goes full steam ahead, trains will be offered as advertising sites; 12 months should cost about pounds 200,000.

Colour adverts have also started appearing on the indicator boards at big train stations, on the backs of Tube and bus tickets and on escalator steps. Milking the opprtunity, it has been reported that a herd of cows, grazing in fields next to a busy rail route, have been kitted out with sponsored sandwich boards.

Sporting turf, of course, provides a super-abundance of opportunities. But forget the usual pitch-side hoardings - these are far too obvious. Golf has chipped in with arguably the most obscure sporting spot for an advert - in the hole itself. "I guess it's the perfect place to advertise Polo mints," says Tim Ashton, creative director of Bates Dorland.

Upping the altitude, KLM, one-time sponsor of Brentford Football Club, went so far as to post a message on the stadium roof. In the Heathrow flight path, it read simply "Next time you'd better fly KLM".

For many, however, this kind of advertising is just another form of pollution. "Ads can be a real imposition," says Alison Jenkins, a teacher from Sheffield. "We went to the countryside the other day, and right in the middle of nowhere was this hot-air balloon - a huge flying ad. But, generally, they're such a part of life that you don't notice them."

And there's the rub: advertising is now so integral to the modern landscape that it is often ignored. Can we perhaps be just a few steps from a Bladerunner-esque environment, where the weary populace remains oblivious to the huge neon posters riding the skyline?

It keeps the media planners amused, but does "terrorist" ad placement really work? "Many of them are just gimmicks," admits Graham Bednash, managing partner at Michaelides and Bednash. "Some use the medium they have chosen very effectively - while others are, well, totally irrelevant."

Sites for sore eyes: what the creatives predict

GRAHAM BEDNASH, managing partner, Michaelides and Bednash:

"Computer boffins will soon perfectthe 'advertising virus'. You'll be at your computer typing a letter, and whenever you use the word 'real', a Coke can will appear."

WILL AWDRY, head of copy, and MARTIN GALTON, head of art, Leagas Delaney:

"Dentist's ceilings. The perfect media site to tap the spending potential of a terrified captive audience. Good for products like Reader's Digest, obscure cult religions and smoke alarms. Middle of the M4. Bungey jumping, white-water rafting, other dangerous sports, all suited to this exciting media opportunity."

TIM ASHTON, creative director, Bates Dorland:

"AA/RAC local repair garage details printed on inside flap of glove compartments in new cars. Diocalm/insect repellent on airline ticket folders. The Samaritans' phone number on the front of tube trains."


executive creative director, Publicis:

"The soles of Christians: I like the idea of adfolk clamouring after Christian soles. When they kneel you'll see 'Eat at Joe's' on the soles of their feet. Strictly for men, you could advertise on toilet rims. Every man aged 16 to 80 must be familiar with the words Armitage Shanks. You could substitute that with 'Drink Worthington E', or perhaps a cab company number."


joint creative directors, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters:

"The AA should advertise under the bonnets of Skodas. Carling Special Brew could buy space on the carpet underneath pub tables. Levi's should buy a series of six-inch strips across builders bottoms - avoiding the crack, of course."