Trends In Ambient Advertising--Otherwise Known As Ad Creep

10 years ago

McDonald's Report CardThe next report card at the Red Bug Elementary School,and for that matter all the other elementary schools in Seminole County,Florida will not double as a free coupon for a Happy Meal.

The fact that The Red Bug Elementary School had a McDonald's report card is all part of a trend that is putting advertising everywhere including: School buses, police cars, the stripes in parking lots, and PDF files.

The McDonald's Report Card got a ton of media hype. Stephen Colbert even got into the act, running a five minute piece this week on; the mom, Susan Pagan, who became so outraged that she contacted The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood.

When the news broke about the McDonald's Report card, many were quick to accuse McDonald's of predatory tactics.

However,it turns out that the school district contacted McDonald's and asked that they sponsor the report card. In return for paying the $1600 to print the report cards, McDonald's was allowed to create a promotional wrapper on the front of the report card.

This was not a new fangled idea.Pizza Hut had been the official sponsor of the Seminole County Report Cards for ten years and opted out of that relationship last year.

The school district says no one complained when Pizza Hut was the sponsor.

While McDonalds is taking the heat on the report card, up the road in South Caroline, the School District there just approved a mea'sure that will allow advertising inside school buses. From citizensugar

School buses in South Carolina. The Board of Education just signed a deal on a contract that's worth $2,100 for each month they post ads above the windows in all of their school buses. Some adults might be able to ignore an army of ads, but I wonder about kids. And can we really? Do you miss empty space to think? Who wins the battle of our consciousness vs. commercialism? Are we selling out?

According to some sources if every school bus offers advertising it will ad $3 million to their budget in the first year alone. There is a backlash.One state senator in South Carolina has introduced legislation to ban the bus advertising.

It's not just in schools. Ambient advertising does feel like it has creeped into every aspect of our lives. Writing in BrandWeek, Adam Remson takes a look at just how pervasive ad creep has become.

*Dr Pepper was also scolded last February and ultimately scrapped a promotion that would have sent consumers into a historic cemetery in Boston as part of a scavenger hunt.
*• Internet telephony firm Jangl, Pleasanton, Calif., is testing “in-call” advertising, which credits consumers’ phone bills if they listen to 15-second ads during their phone calls.
* Microsoft has introduced a grocery cart-mounted console that shows video ads for items in stores.
* A Needham, Mass., firm called Bus Radio offers a sponsor-driven network targeted at kids on school buses.

From The Boston Globe via The ADLAB,

Boston Globe: "Continuing advertisers' march into seemingly every available public space, this small city north of Boston is preparing a plan to allow its police cars to carry up to three advertising signs, each roughly twice the size of a bumper sticker. And the ads would not end there: Fire Department command vehicles may also sport them.

A local supermarket and car dealership signed on, and two cruisers have sported the ads. The program has generated $72,000 and is up for renewal in May."

Police will not give preferential treatment to corporate sponsors.

However, folks in Toledo Ohio didn't buy into the idea of sponsored cop cars. Taking a humorous approach ,Lisa Renne, at the Glass City Jungle  thinks the city just approached the wrong advertisers,

It’s really rather simple, the City once it became clear could not get local support should have thought global. As an example, many of us really felt that an ad for Trojan condoms, “They really protect and serve” would have been a definite success had the City tried to contact Trojan. Or, the alternative idea to forget the police cars and use City Garbage trucks with advertising by Molly Maid, “Don’t let your home look like a dump”.

Last Fall, ABC TV used Parking Lot Stripe advertising to get the message out that Desperate Housewives was returning to the fall lineupl.Christine N. Ziemba from Laist says,

When I read in Extra, Extra yesterday about the Desperate Housewives marketing onslaught at my local Ralphs parking lot in Valencia, I just had to check it out. I chuckled when I saw the parking stripes -- and I have to admit it was the first advertising that caught my attention in awhile. But I'm still not going to watch the lame show.

Finally, Adobe is currently testing the idea of allowing "publishers" to include contextual advertising in their PDFs. From Tech Crunch:

On one hand contextual advertising in PDFs probably falls into the “why didn’t they think of that before” category, but on the other hand there’s probably a reason this is a new concept, because I can’t see there being a stampede of people wanting to use the service. It will be interesting to see however whether the ads convert, and it may provide an additional revenue stream for ebook sellers and similar online users and creators who regularly provide PDF downloads to visitors.

As someone who gladly accepts advertising on my blog, I am not against paid advertising. I love it.
I think the school district in Seminole County was creative in going to first, Pizza Hut, and then McDonald's to defray the cost of report cards.

If a mistake was made it was in how McDonald's executed its promotion. It was too in your face. If the school district would have sent letters to parents explaining the relationship and instead of having the offer come directly from McDonald's but from the school district, people probably wouldn't have been so creeped out.

It was an okay idea. Just wrong vehicle and wrong target audience. The offer should have gone to the parents and allowed the parents to decide whether a Happy Meal was an appropriate way to reward a good report card.

By having the school district publicly remind their community that McDonald's covered the cost of printing the report cards parents may have ended up having good feelings about the company instead of outrage.

As to advertising on police cars, is it really that different than having police officials call your business asking for donations to support their efforts?At least with the paid advertising, the support is transparent. Everyone knows whose providing the financial support.

I particularly like the line from the Boston Globe,"Police will not give preferential treatment to corporate sponsors."

While it may feel like Ad Creep has gotten creepier, had a robust conversation about Ad Creep back in2000 where I found my absolute favorite ambient ad,

"Not so long ago, there was the boxing match between Mike Tyson and Julius Francis (played in Manchester, Great Britain). As usual, ads were an integral part of the live broadcasting around the world. But I challenge anyone to beat this one: The sponsors of Julius Francis had thought about every possibility. They even placed an ad on the soles of Francis' shoes, in case he was knocked out (and he was!), which allowed us to have a glimpse of the sponsors' ... genius!"

Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness

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