Lists: Reasonably Flat Surfaces That Could Be Used for Forced Idleness Advertising

The airport experience is nothing but sequential moments of forced idleness.  As we stand numbly in security lines or fidget at the gate, our weary eyes dart around looking for stimulation.  Marketers have obliged.  Every available surface is slathered with ads – the pillars of the concourse, the elevator door, the escalator rails or the bottom of the bins in the security line.  I have even seen an ad on the floor beamed from a projector hanging from the rafters.

These ads are fleeting – elevator doors close, the bins in the security line are promptly covered by clothes – and thus they convey nothing more than product awareness.   But marketers must believe that even this brief exposure can seep into our psyche.  Marketers are like sharks, ever moving on the ocean floor, searching for new meat, eager to extrapolate the airport experience into the cracks and crevices of our daily lives.

Here are my top picks for the next wave of forced idleness advertising. 

1. Women’s Bathroom Stalls

I can’t speak for men, but urinal advertising does seem a bit intrusive.  Pants are unzipped, genitalia hanging.  Nevertheless, urinals have long been exploited for ads.  Considering the age of the man and the condition of his prostate, I estimate that urination provides about 20 seconds of forced idleness with the pee-er forced to stare ahead.  (Actually, ads on urinals could be a welcome focus to limit the possibility of straying eyes.)  In stadiums, urinal ads often promote the schedule of upcoming games.  Uber has started to put ads in urinals in bars, on the presumption that this demographic needs a ride home.

I am certainly not a fan of such advertising, but I always stand up for women’s equality.  There are no ads in women’s bathrooms.  In fact, I would be happy to know about upcoming sports schedules or local attractions.  The bathroom stall is the epitome of a captive audience and the duration of the forced idleness will exceed that of the urinal.  At my last visit, I timed it out at 30 seconds.  However, since I pride myself on efficiency in all matters, the 30 seconds could be a gross underestimate, and of course, the privacy of the stall permits additional voluntary idleness, an opportunity that presumably does not exist at the men’s urinal.  The smooth expanse of the stall door is absolutely ripe for advertising. Sexism is the only possible explanation for this missed opportunity.

2. Dry Cleaners

As I wait at the dry cleaners for the attendant to retrieve my clothes, I look with new appreciation at the unsullied expanse of the counter top.  In front of me the conveyor belt swishes along and I count forty-five seconds before my clothes are dumped onto the counter.  That exposure time is at least thirty seconds longer than the ephemeral ads in the bottom of airport security bins.  This time and space just calls out for exploitation.  At the very least, dry cleaners could extol their expert tailoring, their ability to get a zipper back on track, refresh tired Velcro or get the yellow out of the armpits.  Advertisements for the Subway sandwich shop next door could bring in additional revenue.

3. Highways

Here’s an idea to close the government’s budget deficit.  It’s the interstate highway system. That’s 46,000 miles of an utterly flat surface.  So why not embed ads in the pavement?

Pavement ads could simultaneously keep the motorists’ eyes on the road and eliminate the distraction of ugly billboards.  The advertising revenue could then fund the repair of crumbling highway infrastructure.  A pilot program could focus on embedding ads into the exit ramps, where drivers are slowing down anyway.  My fast food vendor of choice is Arby’s, so why not slap that ten-gallon hat logo right on the ramp to guide me on my way?  How about a picture of some fries?

4. Eggs

Eggland’s Best eggs are individually marked with a stamped EB.  If the technology exists to mark  an egg without breaking it, then the egg shell could become another surface for advertising.  Just think of it, this ad would be seen 36 times – once in the store when checking for broken eggs, once when transferring each egg to the egg rack in the fridge and again as each egg is used.

Given the exploitation of flat-ish surfaces, it should be no surprise that yes, advertising on eggs has already been done.  While the EB is just a gentle ink stamp, laser etching technology has been available for over 10 years, originally designed to improve safety by providing an expiration date and tracking code.  The manufacturer, Egg Fusion, took the next logical step by offering eggs as advertising space.  In 2006, CBS advertised their fall TV line-up on 35 million eggs.  The CSI franchise was promoted with the tagline “Crack the Case with CBS.” “Leave the Yolks to Us” promoted their Monday night comedies.

I did notice a significant flaw.  The ads were placed on the flattest center of the egg, which is not readily visible in the carton or the fridge.  That positioning might be acceptable for dates and tracking codes but the pointy top of the egg would be the optimal place for an ad.  However, this location is the most technically challenging given the optical distortion of such a curved surface. Egg Fusion went out of business in 2008.

Advertising on eggs resurfaced in 2012 when an Israeli company conquered the technical challenges.  Dorot, a purveyor of garlic and herbs, has etched their omelet recipe onto some 3 million Israeli eggs.

5. Books

Reading a book is not an example of forced idleness, but I include it here because books are my trusted work-around at the airport.  I view the ephemeral ads of forced idleness marketing as harmless and even amusing as I think of the desperation of a company willing to hawk their wares at the bottom of an airport security bin.

We are all accustomed to ads interrupting written content. Magazine and newspaper ads support freedom of the press and thus are essential to a well-informed democracy.  Internet advertising has transformed  passive content interruption to aggressive disruption.  I have been hijacked many times by a wayward cursor that throws me into a new site promoting ads targeted specifically to me, such as a prepaid cremation or a novel treatment for toenail fungus, but this is just the price paid for instant access.

Books are an entirely different category.  A book is a sanctuary.  Similar to the premium price for cable channels, its higher price should guarantee me freedom from ads.  So, imagine my devastation as I stood in line at the airport and discovered ads in Green Weenies and Due Diligence, a book about business jargon.  Every fifty pages or so the text was disrupted by self-promotional call-out box in the middle of the page encouraging me to buy additional copies for business prospects, customers, friends and family.  My sanctuary was violated.  Have I been naïve to assume that a book, defined as something made of paper, held together with a spine and  glue and adorned with a Dewey Decimal number, is off-limits to an ad?

I tremble at the thought of the ever-moving shark who has just discovered a new menu item.  He will be back for more.

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  1. Richard Baker on July 31, 2017 at 2:16 am

    I can here via you CC page.

    Thank you for brightening my Monday morning. You got it spot on with the men’s urinals, giving men another reason for peeing on the floor – ‘Sorry I was reading the ad.’

    I remember, years ago, flying SAS to Sweden or Norway (somewhere Scandinavian anyway) and drinking quite a bit on the plane. Reclining on my seat, I stared at the plane’s ceiling thinking why don’t the put ads on the ceiling. Of course, technology came along and they stuck a TV/computer screen on the back of every seat. No one drunkenly gazes at the plane’s plain ceiling anymore.

    They call it progress, I suppose.

    • Liza Blue on October 2, 2017 at 3:58 pm

      Richard, thanks for your kind comments. Do you have a different name on CC. Do you post there? Would be interested in your writing as well

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