- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

“I know a good exit strategy for Iraq,” a he-man pal by the name of Big Tom noted recently.

He is a military veteran, raconteur, dandy and patriot — a right-wing Renaissance man of sorts, and an observant one.

“We all know the Iraqis can’t wait to have a civil war. Well, why can’t Hollywood and Madison Avenue facilitate a fake one for them?” Big Tom demanded. “Our best marketing guys and Tom Clancy types can help the Iraqis develop a brand name, then they could stage the war and sell it on pay-for-view TV. Or maybe a 13-part series. The Iraqis’d make a bunch of money and feel like they’d fought the good fight, and we could go on to other things. Like the Tex-Mex border.”

Big Tom took a civilized puff on a very expensive cigar, murmured something about “Wag the Dog,” “asymmetrical warfare” and writing a movie script.

Never underestimate the power of brand names, he declared, on a roll.

“Everybody’s got ‘em. Look at the military — the ‘Army of One,’ for instance. Churches and political parties brand themselves. And TV networks. And nations. Why, it was the hunger for brands — McDonald’s, Levi’s and Cadillacs — that finally felled the Soviet Union back in the day,” Big Tom says.

He maintains it’s big brand names that can reclaim slums or the destruction of man-made and natural catastrophes.

“Somebody spots the Golden Arches or a Pizza Hut sign or the bright lights of a 7-Eleven, and they have immediate relief. It can’t be so bad if I can still get a Big Mac,” he concludes.

Yes, well. Big Tom has a point. The power of branding — the indelicate art of creating an image and message that immediately resonates with some hapless audience — should be put to humanitarian use, perhaps. Charities are pretty good at it. Various partisan groups flog their causes with a certain panache.

So maybe it could be an exit strategy, too.

In the meantime, anything — or anyone — goes for an advertising vehicle. Sheep, for example, are being paid $1.23 a day to roam the European countryside wearing little blue-and-white coats emblazoned with the logo and message of a hotel reservation service. There are just 144 of them at the moment, but the goal is to expand to “25,000 branded sheep,” according to the Dutch promotions group that confabulated the idea.

The promotions group intends to bring cute flocks of commercial sheep to gambol about in cities and has plans to expand to horses and cows.

The sheep, however, are not half as tacky as the lady who, uh, rented out her cleavage as ad space for an online casino. Then there’s the talking urinal, developed by a company named Wizmark. The company already has sold the idea to Country Music Television and Molson beer. It is part of a new marketing trend called “washroom media.”

Really.

The light-up in-toilet device delivers a prerecorded commercial to “a captive audience,” a spokesman told ABC News.

Likewise, a Canadian ad agency is marketing toilet-paper ads for public restrooms, coyly called TP Ads. It also is pushing sidewalk chalk ads as well.

All this cheeky, targeted outreach is known in the trade as “guerrilla marketing,” which might mesh very well with Big Tom’s notion of branding the war in Iraq. Marketeers have few boundaries.

Tiny cereal and milk ads are appearing on the skins of fresh bananas, just in case the consumer needs a prod for breakfast. There are ads on grocery store floors, barroom pool tables, parking spaces, porta-potties and airline tray tables.

Stupefying amounts of money sometimes are at stake. Advertisers paid $650 million last year to feature their logos on those 35 official NASCAR vehicles that roar around the nation’s racetracks.

Meanwhile, weary consumers who suspect they are seeing more commercials on TV are right: The average network features about 16 minutes of ads for every hour of programming, according to Mind Share, a marketing group that tracks such things. Moviegoers should brace for even more annoying in-theater ads — the number will increase by about 15 percent each year through 2008, according to Zenith Optimedia, a marketing group that monitors those particular intrusions.

Just around the corner, too, is a new British notion — the AddMirror, which projects a 10-second, near hallucinogenic message on vanity mirrors in fancy bars and nightclubs. None other than the British Home Office — an official agency that governs security, justice and police matters in England and Wales — has used the service. This, too, would be of interest to Big Tom and his high-concept zeal for brand-name warfare.

“We are to be launching globally,” said London-based spokesman Ollie Korn.

“Hmmm. Is that right?” Big Tom mused upon hearing the news. “Well, tell them to learn Arabic. And maybe Farsi.”

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and vanity mirrors for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washington times.com.

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