Deluge of ads shows no sign of stopping

Consumers inundated as even beaches filled with slogans, logos

August 29, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Before long, a visit to the local ATM may also feature a full-motion video commercial flashing by the screen in the 10 to 15 seconds that it takes to get some quick cash.

Automated teller machines are a logical new advertising medium -- a captive audience and about 200,000 ATM machines in use across the nation, with an additional 100,000 expected by the end of next year. The demographics are popular with advertisers too. Typical ATM users are 25-to-44-year-olds who visit the machines 6.6 times a month.

Long gone are the days when advertising was simply the domain of newspapers and magazines, television and radio. Now, it is everywhere.

At the beach in Seaside Heights, N.J., there is sand advertising. In New York, advertisements are projected by lights onto the sidewalks in mid-town. Ads for sun block grace turnstiles on the slopes in France. And in Sweden, brand names are stamped on eggs inside cartons.

Today's consumers are deluged with sales pitches via television, the Internet, telephones, on buses, in rest rooms and even on the risers of stairs at trade shows. And if you think the trend is going to slow down anytime soon, think again.

"We're sitting on an explosion right now," said Marjorie Valin, a spokeswoman for the American Advertising Federation. "It's the marketing equivalent of the Big Bang."

U.S. companies spent an estimated $79.3 billion on advertising last year, up 8.3 percent from the previous year, according to industry experts. An increase of 5.5 percent in ad spending is projected this year.

Estimates vary widely on just how much advertising a typical American is exposed to daily. Over the past 35 years, various experts and studies have reported numbers ranging from 76 advertisements a day per person, to 1,518 daily exposures for a family of four, to thousands a day per person.

But with all the new forms of advertising, does the multitude of messages become an impossible cacophony?

"When there's so much advertising, it runs the risk of being too much," Valin said.

It's a topic on the minds of advertisers.

"We're definitely concerned," said Bryan Stark, account executive with the Campbell Group Inc., a Baltimore-based advertising and public relations firm. "You have to give the consumer back something for the few seconds of their time that you steal, whether it's a laugh or a smile or something else worthwhile to them."

Andy Dumaine, partner and creative director of the Campbell Group, recognizes the dangers of the proliferation, where even a trip to the restroom provides no break from advertising.

"We have to create advertising-free zones for people or they're going to go postal," he said.

Dumaine suspects that just as people have the ability to block violence from their television viewing, they may one day demand to be able to block advertising.

"It will put the burden back on advertisers to engage consumers and be relevant to them," he said.

The saturation point for consumers came at least six decades ago, said Lynda M. Maddox, a professor of marketing and advertis- ing at George Washington University.

"We're exposed to thousands of advertising messages in a day," she said. "It's escalated to the point that we couldn't possibly absorb them all. Now with all the new media, it just gets worse. We're bombarded with so many messages that if they aren't relevant, they don't compute. That's why we're seeing better targeted ads."

Peanut butter success

In recent years, advertisers have realized that clever print ads or glitzy TV spots are not the only ways to win consumer attention. The forms that advertising takes can greatly heighten the creativity quotient.

Take Patrick Dori's sand advertising -- something he likes to describe as the world's first nonpolluting, environmentally safe billboard.

It all started July 1, 1998, in Seaside Heights, N.J., when Dori used a hand-made machine to create a 12 foot by 4 foot, half-inch deep impression in the sand for Skippy peanut butter.

"I've been in advertising for 18 years, and I've never experienced anything like this," said Dori, the owner of a small New Jersey advertising agency. "People were coming from miles around to take pictures of the impressions. People just literally stopped in their tracks, dropped everything and pulled out cameras."

Skippy has no hard numbers on the impact of that advertising, but company executives were pleased with consumer reaction.

"It gave us an opportunity to get our brand right out there in front of our consumers in a situation where they're having fun, while they're with their families, things we really like the Skippy peanut butter brand to stand for," said Michael Lyon, director of promotion for Best Foods in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. "I was walking up and down the beach and listening to people talk about that neat new media and Skippy peanut butter and just how novel it was. I can't tell you how unusual it is to have people talking about your brand and your advertising."

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