Rested Development

22 06 2012

I have heard it said that USAmericans are exposed to as many as 5000 ads per day. They come at us from a variety of directions, some subtle, some in your face. Broadcast. Print. Online. Outdoor. Mobile.

Some are so subtle that they fly under the radar. For example, last summer about this time we went to see the Padres and Nationals at Petco Park in San Diego. Other than possibly being the perfect cure for insomnia (two lousy teams duking it out for the honor of being the league’s doormat), it was a nice evening spent in the cool June Gloom of Southern California. Little did I realize I was being marketed to at every turn.

Corporate naming rights are now being sold for anything and everything. Stadia are perhaps among the more common, but universities as well are getting in on it (thanks to state governments decreasing funding for higher education). But now it appears that we may have one more location in which to soak up monetary messages: highway rest areas.

If anything, rest areas have remained virtually ad-free for decades. Sure, there might be vending machines and state tourism attendants, but it’s pretty much virgin territory for marketing. If the recession has taught us anything, though, it is that governments either cannot or will not continue to pay for the things we once took for granted.

So imagine taking the freeway exit and being confronted with signage like this: Welcome to the Coca Cola Rest & Safety Park! Park your car. relax. Stretch your tired legs. And have an ice cold Coke!

Yeah, it could happen. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but with state budgets getting ever tighter, and now a few states willing to give this notion a whirl, it could happen.

It’s something that should have been considered in Texas. In the last year, TXDOT shut down dozens of small picnic areas, citing budget problems and escalating upkeep costs. Imagine if these picnic areas had been sponsored instead by companies? They could have remained open…and continue to provide not only a place for a family snack, but also a safe place to take a rest from driving.

I am sure that some social critics will find this reprehensible, but it is something we must come to accept in the future. I would not be surprised to see bridges and entire road segments underwritten by corporations.

Heck, it’s already happening to some degree. For example, Zappos.com, the Amazon shoe subsidiary headquartered in Las Vegas, has paid handsomely to be the exclusive Adopt-A-Highway along I-15 from the California state line all the way to Sin City. Every mile, in both directions, there is a nice blue sign saying that Zappos is picking up your litter. The irony is that Zappos hires another company to actually do the dirty work (all that bending and bagging takes time, you know, plus it sounds a bit like work). Drivers along that stretch of freeway are peppered with little Zappos reminders every 50 seconds (or less, depending on how much of a maniac you are).

Having grown up among tollroads in Chicago, I am also very familiar with the companies that paid significant sums to have the gasoline and fast food exclusives. Somehow, we did not mind all that commercial activity along I-294. It was just part of the landscape.

There are lots of untapped opportunities for marketers along our nation’s highways. Numerous states provide free wifi at rest areas. Why not let companies underwrite that? The opening screen could be all advertising as you look for the TOS box to click. Bathrooms and picnic benches could be sponsored. CoinStar could place Seattle’s Best coffee machines (caffeine is a great waker-upper, and thus ties in nicely with highway safety).

Let’s take this a step farther. Why not see if Petco would be interested in sponsoring the doggie runs? It seems like a natural fit. And I guarantee it would be more fun watching dogs fight over bones than viewing a couple of last place teams vie for obscurity.

Dr “Play Ball!” Gerlich

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