SCENE: Holmsby Urquart, the advertising genius,
is lunching with Fallon Bisby, the man who thought up the idea
of on-screen ads in movie theaters and yellow "Baby on Board"
Bisby: I know that
you folks in advertising agencies are always on the lookout for
new media and great ideas. Well, I have a great idea. Want
to hear it?
Urquart: Is this anything like the time you tried to
get Mother Teresa to endorse the time shares in Calcutta?
Bisby: This would be a natural for gun manufacturers,
beer, evangelical churches, hard liquor, condoms and cigarettes,
not to mention the re-elect Bush campaign. It involves
a ubiquitous medium and there aren't any FCC restrictions.
Urquart: Sounds too good to be true.
Bisby: It almost is. Let me paint a picture
for you here. Have you ever been sitting in traffic when
an SUV pulls up next to you? Or have you ever been behind
Urquart: Of course. Who hasn't?
Bisby: And what do you see when that SUV pulls up next
to you, or is in front of you?
Urquart: An endless expanse of painted
sheet metal towering over me.
Urquart: Come again?
Bisby: Exactly. You see an endless expanse of
painted sheet metal, just like you said. Like being in the Grand
Canyon. And right now, it's all unused. So I say
let's make use of it.
Urquart: Make use of it?
Bisby: Look, SUVs are everywhere, right? And
do-gooders have been whining for years about SUVs having all
that useless bulk. Well, the bulk doesn't have to be useless
any more! Think, man, think! Why let all that acreage
go to waste? Let's show some good old American get-up-and-go!
Let's start leasing SUV space for ads! Kind of like mini-billboards,
if you like. Not so mini at that, come to think of it.
Urquart: You'd put ads on the sides?
Bisby: And the back, and maybe the top, although the damn
things are so tall I don't know if anyone would see them. Maybe
Urquart: What would prompt an SUV owner to
allow us to plaster his vehicle with ads?
Bisby: That's the easiest part of all. Have
you checked out the price of gas these days? Up, up, up.
People are going to have to do something so they can afford
to keep driving these things. So they rent out space to
us. We paint on the ads. What could be better? Everyone's
Urquart: So SUVs would start looking like great big
Bisby: You got it. And remember, we have terrific
demographics here--everyone. You sit in heavy traffic looking
at the rear end of one of these things, you're there for what?
Ten minutes? Half an hour? Captive audience.
Motorists by the millions across this great land of ours,
staring at your ad and not being able to get away. What
are they going to do? They have to look out their windshield.
So we've got 'em.
Urquart: You have a real sadistic streak,
Bisby: Once we get going, we can expand. I see
plasma screens, endless commercials for hemorrhoid ointments!
Urquart: Which reminds me, there's a
political campaign coming up!
Bisby: And you say I have a sadistic
streak? Political ads would just be an extension of bumper
stickers, my boy. Only the SUV driver will get paid for
the use of his vehicle. Matter of fairness, actually. Why
should politicians get a free ride, as it were?
And so it soon came to pass that America's highways
and byways became colorful extravaganzas of commercial pleadings,
resembling nothing more than the pages of Vogue, People
and Guns and Ammo.
There was a bit of an uptick in fender-bender accidents caused
by male drivers encountering Victoria's Secret ads, but the government
sought to ameliorate the situation through its "Men, Get
a Grip" campaign.
"Just because it's a picture of a 20-year-old female wearing
a black teddy, male drivers don't have to act like adolescents,"
said a spokeswoman for the government.
"Black teddies?" screamed 40 million men. "Woo
woo! I haven't seen that one yet."
The fender-bender total quadrupled.
Minor drawbacks aside, the ads-on-SUVs phenomenon continued unabated
for a few years. Side-door pricing became a favorite topic
at suburban barbeques, and soccer moms did very well when laundry
detergents started buying up minivan space. But when the
price of regular hit $10.99 a gallon, the going rate for SUV
space could not keep pace with the cost of fuel. SUV owners
at 11 m.p.g. found they were s.o.l.
People started turning their SUVs into planters. In time,
they came to resemble the faded old ads you still see on barn
roofs in some parts of rural America.
"Well, it was fun while it lasted, Bisby," said Urquart.
"Yes it was," agreed Bisby. "Say, remember
my remark a few years ago about the Grand Canyon? You don't
*Bisby now has three heavily armed bodyguards.
©2004 by Charles M.
McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895
Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
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