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Your Ad Here: Adventures in Assvertising, and Other Pursuits

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Ads are everywhere. They're on cars, buses and planes. They're on people's bodies: stomachs, foreheads and rear-ends. Marketers are constantly scouring for unexpected advertising real estate. Weekend America reporter Sean Cole has a look at where they're headed next.


By Sean Cole

It used to be so easy. There was an ad on television. It had a jingle, and it reached lots of people.

"In the 50s and 60s, you just place a couple ads, and you reach everybody you could ever imagine wanting to reach," said Steve Hall, editor of Ad-Rants, an immensely entertaining blog about the industry.

But now there are hundreds of television channels, and it's harder and harder for advertising people to get to our eyeballs, especially with Tivo, on-demand media and Internet pop-up blockers. So it's not surprising that a few years ago, marketers started putting ads in the damnedest places. And they had some help.

"College girls were auctioning off their stomachs," Hall said. "And you had the guy who sold space on his forehead to be temporarily tattooed for some period of time."

More recently, Hall has written about ads showing up in even weirder places like snow plows and those thin paper runners on hospital examination tables. It just doesn't let up, he said.

"I keep thinking that this is the last little bit of real estate where it could ever happen. But until someone drives down my driveway in a painting truck and offers to paint house for free—if they can paint it in the shape of a Home Depot logo—I don't think it's gonna be over."

On the other hand, Hall appreciates how creative the industry has gotten. All of this creativity isn't a rejection of traditional media, though. Rather, it's a back door affirmation of traditional media. After all, if a reporter like me does a story about an advertising stunt, you're going to hear the name of the brand being advertised.

For example, back in 2004 ads started showing up on people's bohonkuses - a phenomenon invented by Night Agency in Manhattan. They dubbed it "assvertising," and thought it was the perfect way to advertise New York Health and Racquet Club's new exercise class "Booty Call." They dispatched a team of hot, young guys and girls in Times Square. They repeatedly pulled down their pants and lifted their skirts, flashing their butts. An ad for "Booty Call," was ironed onto their undies.

"If you walk down Madison Avenue or Fifth Avenue, and a beautiful girl or good-looking guy walks by, somebody would tend to turn around an look at that guy or girls ass," said Night Agency co-founder Darren Paul . "So if you're supposed to put the message where people are looking, that's a pretty good place."

And it worked. Buzz was had. But could they build a whole agency around perviness? Would they be forever branded as the Tookis Men?

They never put ads on people's booties again. These days they're building on-line social networks around brands and running art contests. They're also putting ads on the tops of recyclable take-out salad bowls, a concept called "saladvertize."

"Vertize" has become the suffix of the new millennium. That is, ripe for satire.

"So one Friday afternoon I'm sitting there thinking what's the most ridiculous thing I can 'vertize'," Floyd Hayes told me. He's head creative bloke—that's his real title -at an advertising agency in New York called Cunning. "And I think, well, I'll sell my voice, you know? I just made this thing up put it up on eBay for fun."

Voicevertising. Although he was joking, Cadbury Adams took him seriously, and paid him a couple thousand dollars to run around Manhattan screaming the name of a throat lozenge - Halls Fruit Breezers - at the top of his lungs,every 15 minutes, every day, for a week.

"No matter where you were?" I asked him.

"Maybe I didn't shout it as loud as I could in certain places," Hayes said, "But you've got to keep your word."

"A week is a long time," I pointed out.

"Business hours only."

Earlier this year Hayes thought of something even more ridiculous: Thoughtvertising.

He went back on eBay offering to THINK about a brand. "That really was a prank," he says now. "Kind of. I was thinking brand owners spend tens, hundreds of millions of dollars just to become top of mind. So I thought, well, let's just cut out the media and the middle man and the ad agencies and just buy people's thoughts outright."

He even got a few bids, including one from Darren Paul over at Night Agency and one from an ex-girlfriend who wanted to make sure he was thinking about her. But apart from some failed negotiations with a condom manufacturer, nobody bought Floyd's thoughts, which didn't stop a Canadian newspaper from interviewing him.

"The story that ran was technically a story about a man thinking about thinking about something, which is really, really ridiculous," Hayes said, "It made me laugh for a week,"

Ad Nation
The idea of ads plastered on every inch of available space, including the skin of our brains, is bad. We usually think of that as a bad depressing dystopic idea. But talking to ad people, you realize how much fun they're having. They're like graffiti artists, maybe even hoping to leave a place better than they found it.

David Kessler of Landromedia, for example, stretches big colorful billboard ads across the fronts of Laundromat washing machines.

This is the way an ad person's brain works: Kessler just thought this up while doing his laundry at home. "All of a sudden I was like, 'Oh my God, there could be ads on these things!' If it was in a romantic comedy I would have ran to the airport, "Kessler says.

Instead, he ran to a local laundromat, where sure enough there was nothing on the machines. And not much on the walls either. "They brighten up a lot of the laundromats actually, and I've had laundromat owners call me up going, 'Wow, this would really cover the dents in our machines.'"

He said he never got any negative feedback about it. "I do think my laundromat advertising is the future, the future of advertising. You can't run from a machine that has your clothes in it."

And if you take no other lesson about the world of advertising away from this story, please at least remember that. Somebody might take your clothes.

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