I remembered another way in which advertising has become ubiquitous and insidious. It’s in more than newspaper, TV, radio, movie theaters, trains, buses, elevators . . . how about restrooms?
Last year, I was having dinner with a visitor from the UK at my favourite downtown Thai restaurant in Chicago when the urge struck. (I had to pee.) I went to the ladies’ room, naturally, and closed the stall door, naturally. And what should appear on the back of the door? A full-color poster and acrylic brochure rack for a form of birth control! Needless to say, here am I, a captive audience and compulsive reader, stuck in a stall with an ad and forced to read. Within moments, I knew everything there was to know about this particular form of contraception. Had I been amorous, I wonder if I could have found a 24-hour clinic at which to procure it, driven to such by advertising. “Hey, a new lead!”
I try to imagine the ad rep selling the restaurant manager/owner on this concept. “We’ll pay you to put our posters and brochures in your ladies’ room! On the back of every stall door! I’ll have an audience in thrall to my ad, and your patrons will thank you for keeping them informed about the latest prescription for avoiding getting knocked up! It’s all the perfect compliment to the pad thai!”
Suddenly, what had been a pleasant dining experience had become a rather crass one — albeit with a touch of humour. I wasn’t there to be served; I was there to be sold to. I asked my friend to check out the men’s room, thinking perhaps to learn about emperor-sized Trojans or somesuch. Alas, the men’s ad wasn’t quite as interesting — it was for Men’s Health magazine.
We left, not particularly wiser about conception prevention or health, but about how to avoid advertising. Crawl into bed and hope that the comforter manufacturer didn’t attach an ad to the underside . . . I’d go online, but advertising is of course all over the Internet. One of the most egregious examples is ICQ (chat client) for Windows. Every message window — every single one — has an ad. Many for something to do with Britney Spears . . . Is there some sand I can bury my head in now?