San Diego Business Journal Alternative Ad Vehicles Drive Up Options for Agencies and Clients

In the 1945 science fiction story "Pi in the Sky," people were so saturated with advertisements that they were resentful and ignored them.

However, a soap manufacturer gets through to them by moving the sky's brightest stars. After writing his company's message into the heavens, sales grew by 915 percent.

Comparing decades-old fiction to today's fact, advertising agencies and their clients have yet to take their message to that extreme.

However, as consumers become increasingly guarded and wary of advertising, these companies are finding more ways than ever to reach their target markets.

There's been an explosion of growth in the types of advertising venues, said Jim King, executive vice president of local advertising firm Phillips-Ramsey.

Advertisements are already on the sides of trucks, on dry cleaners' bags and paper hangers, King noted. On airports' baggage carousels, stationary ads are being placed on the carousel panels, and TV screens playing commercials are also being added to the structures.

At the grocery store, companies are advertising on the floor panels and on cardstick separators between customers' purchases at the checkout counter. Messages are starting to be applied on fruit, via small stickers.

More ways are coming, King said. Among those being tested is advertisements in airplanes' overhead bins and transmitters in grocery carts that would set off auditory messages about specials.

Also, look for ads on parking meters and office buildings renting out commercial space on elevator monitors.

"There's more than ever before, partly because of the technology available," King said. "It opens up a whole new arena taking the imagination and the ideas and making people able to execute this."

In charge of his agency's media buys, King investigates the new options as they emerge. He sorts through specialized trade newspapers, other publications, the Internet, and releases from alternative media companies. Sometimes he meets with a firm's sales representatives.

Only some of these mediums will work, King predicted. Those that don't bring in results will fade away, he said.

Unproven mediums tend to be less expensive, and clients mix them with traditional media, King said.

The newer mediums are also a way to reach an increasingly specialized audience, he said. Dry cleaner bags and grocery advertisements can be targeted at a particular neighborhood, for instance.

The alternative marketing vehicles play into the industry concept of guerilla advertising, said Michael Mark, president and creative director of matthews/mark in Downtown.

"It's getting your target audience when their defenses are lowest, so they're most vulnerable to your message," Mark said. "Now that sounds quite mercenary and exploitative, and it can be if it's done wrong.

"But, if you give these people something in return for their time and attention, then you will have garnered perhaps a customer or at least an alliance."

- Thousands Of Messages

Reach Audiences Daily

Industry research indicates the average consumer has at least 5,000 messages aimed at them each day, Mark said.

And it's coming to potential consumers who are more savvy and sensitive to advertising than ever before, he said.

"You have a very hostile audience out there," Mark said. "They're not just putting the mute button on, they're actually aware of what we're doing and defending against it. They're aggressively pushing our messages away."

It creates a challenge for both the marketing firms and their clients, he said.

If the customer actually gives time to look at the advertisement, it's a risk not to give the customer something that matters to them, Mark said.

"Otherwise, all you've done is interrupt them, aggravate them, annoy them, and, I'll tell you, you'll turn them off," he said. "And you may turn them off for a long time, a short time, or forever."

Mark's firm found its own medium for Lamkin Corp., a San Diego client that manufactures grips for golf clubs.

- Golf Course Rakes

A Creative Medium

On the handles of rakes used by golfers to smooth sand traps, the agency placed stickers with the Lamkin logo. Along with the advertising theme, "Change your grip, change your game," the agency had statements such as, "On the beach again?"

The stickers could catch the golfers when they were thinking about how their shot landed them in the sandtrap, Mark said. It suggests a solution when the potential consumer was vulnerable, he said.

Even though he consciously safeguards the conservative reputation of his family business, Lamkin president and co-owner Bob Lamkin immediately found the rake idea intriguing.

The rest of the campaign's traditional media is less radical, but such ideas are a good way to get the customer's attention, Lamkin said.

The client's perspective is important, and affects the process, particularly with approaching new advertising mediums, said Wade Koniakowsky, creative director of Del Mar firm Big Bang Idea Engineering.

When it comes to guerilla marketing and using any nontraditional media, inspiration is followed by a hard look at feasibility, Koniakowsky said.

- Clients Involved

In The Process

"They take a lot of effort on the part of the client," he noted of some unusual advertising projects.

If clients don't want to hire out the work, they often have to do several tasks that are outside their usual realm and sometimes lose interest in even doing the project, Koniakowsky said.

One of the positive aspects of trying alternative mediums is that they can be easier and cheaper to test, he said.

"You can float it out there do it on a small scale, see how people respond, and then go back and regroup and decide what to do next," Koniakowsky explained.

He mentioned one project within a campaign for Bothell, Wash.-based running shoe manufacturer Brooks Sports Inc.

The firm tested an idea of chalk-stenciled logos and Brooks' "Run Happy" marketing theme on the running paths of one of Seattle's main parks by trying it out in an area just outside their downtown Seattle office.

- Alternative Media

Takes Extra Efforts

Alternative media sometimes involve more work in the way of infrastructure. To set up the park stencils, Big Bang had to get permission from the city, hire college students, and find a chalk that was washable and environmentally friendly, Koniakowsky said.

For some of the new mediums, small industries have sprung up. One local example is Trykor Rolling Media, Inc., which sells space on the sides of trucks.

Without disclosing sales figures, Trykor president and co-owner David Margolis said that business is better than ever before. The market is continuing to evolve, he said.

What's next in the advertising world? More ways and places to advertise, King said , and, likely, new media that has yet to be invented.

As an example, King mentioned the proliferation of the Internet. "No one, or very few, in the advertising business 10 years ago would have foreseen this development, the penetration, the widespread usage of a different way of people getting information and that obviously has advertising and marketing implications," he said.

Yet, beyond the mediums, the biggest challenge remains fine-tuning the advertising message itself, he said.

"That's the real challenge for creative people," King said. "It's not just doing a 30-second TV commercial or four-color page magazine ad or an outdoor billboard, or a newspaper ad. There are so many options that creative people have to consider. It's a growing process."