When paid announcements started appearing on bicycle messengers’ bags and jackets last year, it seemed a sure sign that the advertising industry had finally run out of inorganic surfaces on which to flog new products. But an outfit called Zoom Media has begun staking its claim on a new ad frontier – one that’s been right in front of our noses, practically. The Canadian agency has begun placing twelve-by-sixteen-inch mini-billboards above urinals and inside stall doors in public bathrooms across New York, to shill beer and blue jeans to a (temporarily) captive audience. “We transform a blank wall into a money machine,” gloats local sales director Eric Menzies.
Phase one – referred to by the company as a “destruction phase” – entails installing empty frames, so patrons can get used to their presence before the paper inserts are added. Of the 1,500 panels already up in places like Spy Bar, the Bitter End, and CBGB’s Gallery, about 10 have already been seriously mangled. “What do I care? They’re paying me,” says CB’s owner Hilly Kristal, who, like the other participating bar owners, gets 15 percent of revenues.
Vandalism aside, the larger question might be how warmly patrons will take to products pitched mid-stream. A Zoom spokesman scoffs: “When you’re on the highway and you see ads, you don’t associate the product with the highway, do you?”