The Thinker

Mobile advertising: a very bad, very wrong idea

Just because you can do something does not mean you should actually follow through. Although like most Americans I am a firm believer in freedom, some ideas should be so over the top and so shameful that no one should actually deliver on them.

One example is urinal and bathroom stall advertising. I noticed the latter in March when I was in Golden, Colorado and I took in a movie in the evening. I found it necessary to run into the head before I went into the theater. I mean it is not like the assault of advertising before the movie (at ear piercing volumes, which I noted in this entry) was not enough. No, the over the top managers of this theater chain, who must have been taking orders directly from Madison Avenue, wanted to make sure that while patrons were engaged in the necessary business of body waste elimination that they were also be exposed to obnoxious advertising.

Things remain much more civilized in places like France, which we visited last year. While you may have to pay for the privilege of using a restroom, at least you can do so without being assaulted by advertising. I hope nobody in the theater business is reading this because I do not want to give them any more money raising ideas. Because clearly their next tactic will be to make you pay to use a restroom in a theater and as you are taking a leak, make sure that you are aware that a Garfield movie is coming.

No wonder I find fewer reasons to go see movies in the theater. No wonder I so much prefer Netflix. I watch movies at my convenience, never worry about a late fee and pay less than I would pay at a Blockbuster. When my kidney decides to burst in the middle of a movie, I hit the pause button and use my own, advertising-free facilities. When I do choose to see a movie in a theater, I generally find that I will avoid the big multiplexes. Instead, I am frequenting places like the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia. It may not have stadium seating, but it does not have obnoxious ear piercing advertising before the shows. It also has theater food that is good for you: juices, croissant sandwiches, muffins and freshly popped popcorn served with real butter. It has all this plus the quality art films that I crave and ticket prices that are lower than the chains. In addition, I can use their restrooms without having to be assaulted by advertising. What is not to like?

I was hardly back from Golden, Colorado and still recovering my dignity from the vicious advertising assault out there. I was driving down the street when I did a double take. A truck with rotating billboards just went by. My jaw dropped. This was wrong. This was very, very wrong.

Of course, I do expect businesses to advertise their business on their cars and trucks. This was different. This truck was driving around advertising other businesses, with annoying and garish rotating ads that distracted me from driving safely. Moreover, this truck had no cargo. It was just one large, dual sided mobile billboard with rotating ads. Someone had figured out that there was enough money in this business to pay someone to spend all day driving around our metropolitan area in a truck with rotating billboards. Presumably, this truck, like most trucks, was averaging 8 to 10 miles per gallon.

At least highway billboards, as obnoxious as they are, do not emit carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming. Here was a business, one of many in this burgeoning field, that had no qualms about both assaulting us with unwanted and frequently changing advertising when we needed to concentrate on driving safely. Not only that, but it was unnecessarily polluting the air. And for what? So that I could learn about Cingular’s cell coverage range? If these were not bad enough, in addition to needlessly fouling the air it was adding to or already legendary traffic congestion. My guess is that these trucks are also responsible for many accidents. It can be hard to concentrate on traffic when Technicolor billboards are rotating around you.

Perhaps advertisers justify mobile billboards because much of the Washington metropolitan area does not permit real billboards. This is certainly true of Fairfax County where I live, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria and Montgomery County in Maryland. We do not like billboards because they are both very tacky and do not communicate the professional image we want to project. However, there are no such laws on mobile advertising. Therefore, we have these mobile advertising trucks circling the Capital Beltway, trolling I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road, and tooling up and down the Fairfax County Parkway where I live.

Enough! If we can make radar detectors illegal in Virginia, we can take these mobile advertising trucks off the roads in our jurisdictions too. Let us just do it before we decide to accept such outrages as part of the natural course of capitalism.

While we are at it, let us pass laws to remove advertising from our public restrooms too.


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