Ads: The Final Frontier

"Radio Shack Corp. is boldly going where no other advertiser has gone before. The Fort Worth, Texas, retail giant has signed up with a tiny Arlington, Virginia, start-up called LunaCorp to sponsor a most unusual marketing event; a mission to explore the moon with an advanced robotic vehicle, set for 2003. Neither Radio Shack nor LunaCorp would disclose exact terms, but the sponsorship is expected to cost Radio Shack about $1 million in the first year alone. In exchange, the retailer gets to put its logo on the moon rover." -- Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2000

JOHNSBURY, IL (June 29) -- In what is believed to be the world's first intra-human advertisement, heart-valve manufacturer Valvetek yesterday announced that surgeons at St. Joseph's Presbyterian Hospital in Johnsbury, Illinois, have implanted a special aortic heart valve bearing a Valvetek advertisement into the chest of Elmore Greenwald, of Merland, Illinois. The advertisement, drawn on the pea-size artificial aortic valve, is designed to appear in Mr. Greenwald's routine chest x-rays as the fluorescent green word VALVETEK. It will appear as a multicolored strobing display in MRIs. The valve was installed free of charge to Mr. Greenwald in exchange for the advertising space.

"We feel that it's a win-win situation," says Chip Damson, Valvetek's vice-president of client enthusiasm and marketing. "Mr. Greenwald got a free heart operation, and we got exclusive advertising space that we expect will be viewed by approximately 258 cardiac specialists, our target demographic, over the next 10 years, provided Mr. Greenwald's post-surgical recovery meets expectations. It's a very cost-effective way to reach our customer base, and if Mr. Greenwald is still alive, what better ad space could there be?"

Mr. Greenwald was still in ICU and unavailable for comment at press time. But his wife, Yolanda, says her husband accepted Valvetek's offer enthusiastically.

"Before the Valvetek people came along, we nearly had to choose between the operation and the wide-screen TV we'd been eyeing since last Christmas," says Mrs. Greenwald. "This way, we got both. We couldn't be happier."

This comes on the heels of another groundbreaking ad concept, unveiled last week at St. Mark's Church in Sultana, Maryland: a series of display ads affixed to the backs of the first 10 rows of the church's pews. Advertisers include Peterson's House of Stained Glass; Tippy's Florist; and Mrs. Gagne, lead church organist, available for weddings and other private functions. Local toy retailer Toys "N" Stuff also took out a mural-size advertisement that adorns the wall of the children's room.

"Church attendance has been down," says Father Paul Belliveau, St. Mark's priest for 15 years. "Our weekly collection has been dropping, and we desperately needed to renovate the kitchen in the basement to accommodate the standing-room-only crowds we get for the bingo. This seemed like a low-impact way to fund our expansion without further burdening our dwindling client base. Plus, the people who sit in the first 10 rows are usually the rich folks who like everyone to see that they're in church every Sunday, so they're the most likely income bracket to respond to the products. I like to think it's what Jesus would have done. Now there's a guy who knew a thing or two about marketing."

Father Belliveau says he and a local funeral home, Capuatano Brothers, are exploring a strategic partnership that would extend the advertising reach of the pew display ads to the sides of caskets at select funerals in the coming months.

This news follows the launch last month of a new advertising campaign by General Consumer Goods Corporation, makers of Dove's Breath(TM) Toilet Tissue, that seeks to place oval-shaped ads on the underside of toilet-seat covers in 50,000 homes across America. "We want Dove's Breath to be what folks think of when they use the toilet," says Skip Hardagon, senior executive vice-president of external shareholder attentiveness and corporate communications for GCGC. "We have research that demonstrates that by forming a direct, predictable association between the ad and the bodily function, we can create an almost Pavlovian reflex. Eventually, these folks won't have any choice but to buy Dove's Breath."

In exchange for accepting the ads, households will receive coupons worth more than $1000 for a variety of GCGC products, including Cholestra(TM) Spread, a cholesterol substitute that came under fire recently after several hundred people complained to the FDA that it caused "aggressive anal leakage."

Technology is playing an important role in many of these new ad concepts. Tech start-up On Your Face Media Enterprises, in cooperation with Diamond Vision Centers, recently created a new type of eyeglasses that display ads on the inside of the lenses. On Your Face has signed contracts with more than 20 advertisers to produce "nano-ads," extremely short commercials (less than 1/100th of a second) that will flash briefly on the lens without interfering with normal vision, according to Trevor d'Allement, On Your Face's senior corporate liaison for consumer media coverage.

"With our new nano-ads, you don't even realize you're seeing them," says d'Allement. "Consumers think they're wearing normal eyeglasses, but suddenly, they get a craving for a hamburger or a new car. I mean, most people have those cravings anyway. We're just looking to redirect them a little. And isn't that what advertising is all about?"

Kris Frieswick can be reached at krisf1@gte.net.

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