From the category archives:

smart & stupid advertising

Lap Band Alley

by anna on January 22, 2010

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Mr. Right-Click and I have taken to referring to the stretch of the 710 freeway between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach as Lap Band Alley. Perhaps you can understand why.

lap bands on the house

In this one stretch of highway, it is impossible to drive more than a quarter mile without seeing at least one billboard advertising lap band procedures. Advertising! As if medical procedures are something that you just up and decide to get because you saw a billboard!

another lap band ad

Oh! It’s not just one company doing this advertising, either. There is stiff competition in the lap-band/PPO insurance exploitation racket.

lap band competitor
Now, admittedly, there are a few other things that are advertised on Lap Band Alley besides lap bands. For example, casinos.

You also might see some ads for alcohol, or a movie starring The Rock Dwayne Johnson.

the rock

And, naturally, Ryan Seacrest.

ryan seacrest

What starts to happen is you get a weird juxtaposition of these signs, so that you’re seeing the lap band advertised alongside PSAs for avoiding swine flu.

lap band with swine flu

Unless I have misunderstood this sign, and what it’s actually doing is advocating the swine flu as a diet tactic.

swine flu

What ends up happening is you get done driving through Lap Band Alley and you’re like, “Hey, you know what? I’ve been thinking that maybe I need a lap band?” And then you’re like, “Wait, what? Why do they even call it a lap band, anyway?”

christmas gift

And then you start thinking, “Well maybe I don’t need a lap band but I bet it would make a nice gift for somebody else.” And you start going through your contacts for somebody who might not be offended by the gift of a lap band.

But luckily, before you can do anything totally crazy, you finish driving through Lap Band Alley and wake up, as if you were in a dream all along, where the most desperate of advertising times have led to the mass marketing of a medical procedure, a money plan that involves investing your paycheck at the Blackjack table, Ryan Seacrest promising us not that he’ll make us rich, but that he has a sweepstakes that might pay our rent, and a country so desperate for escape that it is seriously considering watching a movie made about The Tooth Fairy which stars a former wrestler named after a lump or mass of hard consolidated mineral matter. And after you think about that, you think, maybe I do need a drink, but then you realize you’re a sober alcoholic, and you’re just happy to get the hell out of Lap Band Alley as quickly as possible.

This is a heartwarming message, really -- but what about if I make a hamburger out of PlayDoh and then eat it? Is it still safe then?

This is a heartwarming message, really -- but what about if I make a hamburger out of PlayDoh and then eat it? Is it still safe then?

A really clever guerrilla marketing strategy can get spread the word about your company in much less time and for much less money than even the mighty power of a large scale mass media advertising campaign. Of course, a guerrilla marketing stunt that misfires will get people talking about your product whether you like it or not. But if we take it from Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and these days, it’s becoming more common to see traditional campaigns being supplemented by smaller-scale viral campaigns. Here are some of the advertisements and promotions that have captured my attention, some for being extraordinarily innovative, and others for being surprisingly inappropriate and/or stupid. I’ll let you decide which ones are which.

  1. McDonald’s Slowly Emptying Bus Stop-o-Coffee, Somewhere in Canadia.
    I hear that coffee beans are really effective at absorbing offensive odors. So, in that sense, this coffee-filled bus stop is full service.

    I hear that coffee beans are really effective at absorbing offensive odors. So, in that sense, this coffee-filled bus stop is full service.


    As part of their campaign to bring in more breakfast customers in their Canadian franchises, McDonald’s recently ran a free coffee promotion that used bus stops as visual aids in tracking the duration of their free coffee offer. Only thing is, who is the poor sap who had to go down there, under cover of night, and drain the bus stop of beans every day for two weeks? Or are they magic beans that don’t have to be removed, but just magically disappear on their own? Hey, speaking of magic beans . . . [Via Ads of the World.]
  2. McDonald’s Coffee Lamp Post. (Vancouver, Canada)
    Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a bold Sumatran blend.

    Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a bold Sumatran blend.


    Another part of the promotion to bring in new breakfast customers to McDonald’s, a downtown Vancouver lamp post was transformed into this optical illusion that suggests coffee being poured from the sky. Questions: does the lamp still work to illuminate the street? When that woman is attacked by somebody hiding behind the giant coffee cup, in the shadows of a now-obscured by brown “coffee” lamp post, will she sue McDonalds, or the Vancouver City Council for greenlighting this campaign? Do Canadians sue each other over stuff like that, or is that more of an American thing? Also, when the coffee-drinking giant comes back, will he be smelling the blood of an Englishman, or just the blood of a loyalist sympathizer? [Via Direct Daily.]
  3. Play-Doh “It’s Safe No Matter What You Make,” Magazine Ads. (Singapore)
    If you discover your child has been making butcher knives out of PlayDoh, it is important not to panic. First, confirm that there are no spare hockey or clown masks lying about where your child can reach them, and then call the proper authorities.

    If you discover your child has been making butcher knives out of PlayDoh, it is important not to panic. First, confirm that there are no spare hockey or clown masks lying about where your child can reach them, and then call the proper authorities.


    The ads for PlayDoh are from a campaign run in magazines in Singapore. The campaign’s slogan, “Safe No Matter What You Make,” suggests that even if your child is into making dangerous objects out of PlayDoh — say little Suzy likes to make the occasional razor blade, or bottle of pills, there’s no reason to worry. Because, hey, it’s not a real razor blade — it’s PlayDoh! The fact that they’re thinking of such things is not alarming in any way! And also, the photo-realism of that rendering, I’m sure little Suzy did that all from her imagination, rather than from a model of an old-time razor blade sitting right in front of her. So go ahead and get back to your Days of Our Lives, there’s nothing to worry about here. [Via Ugly Doggy.]
  4. Exploding Newspaper Vending Machines, Santa Monica, California, ca. 2006.
    Frightened by Tom Cruise and his couch-jumping antics, the bomb squad in Santa Clarita decided to blow up the LA Times vending machine, rather than listen to one more second of the theme from Mission Impossible III.

    Frightened by Tom Cruise and his couch-jumping antics, the bomb squad in Santa Clarita decided to blow up the LA Times vending machine, rather than listen to one more second of the theme from Mission Impossible III.


    Here’s a viral campaign misfire with which I had real-life experience. Early one Sunday morning in the spring of 2006, I went out to buy a Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times from the vending machine on the corner. After putting money into the machine and opening the door, I was startled by a loud and strange sound, and then, eventually, I began to recognize the familiar strains of the theme to Mission Impossible that were coming out of the newspaper vending machine. Only then did I notice that there were also wires running from a small black box attached to the inside top of the machine to the door. One black and one red wire. I wasn’t sure which one to detach. Luckily, I did not panic and call the bomb squad, like some other people did after seeing this placement for Mission Impossible:3. The sound cards placed in newspaper vending machines got the movie into the news, but it was a largely unfavorable response, and ended up involving Paramount paying out some settlement claims. But then, that was the least of Tom Cruise’s problems that year, if I recall correctly.
  5. Flags Made Out Of Food, Sydney International Food Festival, Australia
    Flags made out of food promote the Sydney International Food Festival.

    Flags made out of food promote the Sydney International Food Festival.


    To promote the International Food Festival being held in Sydney, Australia, this fall, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a series of advertisements that depicted countries flags rendered from food. Not only are the flags clever and beautifully executed, they also are culturally accurate: the foods used to construct the flags are distinctive to the cuisine of country they represent. Pictured above: sushi from Japan; rambuntan, lychee, and star-fruit from Vietnam; Roquefort and Camembert with grapes from France; and proscuitto and (yes) Swiss cheese from Switzerland. You can see the full collection of food flag ads at [Hat tip: Laughing Squid.]
  6. “Don’t Jump” Bus Advertisement for careerbuilder.com
    I don't know that this would be effective on me, if I was already standing on the roof of a building.

    I don't know that this would be effective on me, if I was already standing on the roof of a building.


    I heard a rumor about this scam in the advertising industry where agencies will make up ads without even consulting a client or a company, and then run them without any authority to do so whatsoever. This is all done in order to be eligible for advertising awards, and to secure a likely victory, because the need for client approval of your crazy idea has been done away with. This is possible because in certain countries there are fewer or less stringent laws governing how advertising campaigns may be conducted, so it’s easy to get away with running a suspect ad once or twice. This is all hearsay, of course, since I don’t work in the advertising industry and have no idea if it actually happens or not, but if it does, I have to assume this ad from Careerbuilder is an example of this, because how many people are going to be able to see the top of a bus to begin with? And even if there were many people, are suicides the best prospect for repeat business? Still, clever, and makes a good picture. [Source: Ad Rants.]
  7. Highlighter and White-Out Ambient Ads, FedEx Kinkos, Location Unknown and Possibly Imaginary, ca. 2005
    I wish our loading zone lines were this bright.

    I wish our loading zone lines were this bright.


    Even if there are agency names and copyrighters attached,
    This is the companion piece to the highlighter above. How much would it cost to rent out a street corner in midtown Manhattan, do you suppose?

    This is the companion piece to the highlighter above. How much would it cost to rent out a street corner in midtown Manhattan, do you suppose?

    I kind of have a hard time believing this ambient ad for FedEx Kinkos promotion is authentic — or rather, it is clearly an authentic idea, but I’m not convinced it or its sister advertisement, the FedEx Kinkos White-Out ad, were ever actually used. For one thing, the highlighter is obstructing the view of a street sign, which makes the idea of it being approved by any American city highly suspect. Also, the only pictures of it I can find are all the same two shots, and surely somebody else would have snapped another shot of this if it really was sitting in the middle of a city somewhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s not clever.

  8. “Meister Proper” Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Crosswalk, Somewhere in Germany
    Wait. I'm supposed to believe that Germans allow their sidewalks to get this dirty? Pshaw.

    Wait. I'm supposed to believe that Germans allow their sidewalks to get this dirty? Pshaw.


    I’m as big of a fan of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser as you are likely to find. But this ad troubles me, and not just because I don’t like the idea of Mr. Clean being translated into “Meister Proper” by the German ad company that did this. It raises so many questions: how did the Germans let their streets get this dirty? Why didn’t they clean all of the stripes, instead of just one? Because even if it illustrates the point, it just makes me want to clean all of the stripes . . . And that’s another thing, you can see they just painted this, are they going to come back and paint the rest? I’m so confused and frightened. [Via Mental Floss.]

greensucks

I’m going to start a movement called Purple, and it will be all about using shit one time and then throwing it away.

We will champion the cause of the common man/woman who has a simple goal of putting his unwanted crap in a landfill. And we will reward him for doing it by building a park on top of that landfill for future generations to enjoy. We will charge you more for new furniture than for furniture made from “reclaimed” materials, because of course things that are new should cost more than things that are already used. We will force people to use disposable diapers because cloth diapers are nasty and why are you putting a pin–safety or otherwise–so close to your baby’s private parts when you don’t have to? We also will encourage people to remember that white is white, and not a brown dingy off-white color, and that things like laundry detergent are 1) supposed to be purchased in stores; and 2) smell good, like a fresh summer breeze in a chemical plant, so that you don’t have to actually smell the world around you. Because the world around you stinks.

And to make sure this movement really catches on, I’m going to recruit John McCain–because this will be a bipartisan movement, of course–I will get John McCain to make a video of himself pontificating on the fact that recycling is lame and mostly a waste of time. The video, “The Most Convenient of Truisms,” will feature John McCain reading a script that I’ve written for him where he talks about how most of the shit you do to recycle uses up more resources than it saves, and that we mostly just do this crap to make ourselves feel better, and that every couple of years there’s some new thing that tells you to switch whatever you were doing to a different way and then start all over again. And that every time you do this, this leads to even more wasted resources, and it’s all a bunch of trendy hullabaloo anyway.

Like this stupid display I saw at Starbucks yesterday. First of all, plastic swizzle sticks, Starbucks? You do know that we’ve heard of these before, right? Because you can call them “splash sticks” all you want, and put a little wave of coffee aroma on the top, but isn’t that just like putting lipstick on a plastic swizzle stick? You know who else has plastic swizzle sticks, Starbucks? Who has had them since I was–I don’t know–two years old, sitting on my grandmother’s knee while she chainsmoked? McDonald’s. That’s right: McDonald’s has plastic swizzle sticks. So congratulations. You’ve now copied McDonald’s and blamed it on us.

And this “feature” that these sticks are reusable? Yeah. I get that, but now you expect me to carry around a plastic swizzle stick for the whole rest of the day? Which the chance of me doing? Is less than zero. In fact, you know what I’m going to do, Starbucks? I’m going to take one of your splash sticks, use it, and then ceremoniously throw it away. Right in front of you. What are you doing to do about it? Call the green police on me? Do you honestly think that I’m any less likely to throw away this “splash stick” than I was the wooden stick you used to have? Guess again.

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