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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Required Reading (in bathrooms)

There is nothing bashful about Ms. P.J. Marchner and Mr. Wiley Buchanan. They are partners in a Washington, D.C. advertising firm called Required Reading. Why Required Reading? Well, because they’ve begun to sell advertisements to toilet stall doors and walls above urinals at restaurants. They’ve already signed up a popular eatery for yuppies, Joe and Mo’s, along with three Joe Theismann (of Redskins football fame) restaurants.
With their captive audience, Required Reading is able to charge $167 a month for 5 1/2- inch-square ads behind plexiglass for all stalls and urinals in a particular establishment. The restaurants and soon-to-be office buildings, bowling alleys and more will receive a portion of the advertising revenues.

Will any business alert to customer backlash for poor taste actually advertise? The irrepressible P. J. Marchner says “of course.” Already, a Honda dealer, a travel agency, a beauty salon and a tanning parlor have agreed, she said.

I indicate my prediction that it won’t work. How in the world can the advertiser measure success? She conceded it will be hard, but her firm will give their client an idea of the volume of traffic to the restrooms and perhaps the advertising can suggest to the captives that they will receive some discount if they say they saw the offering in Joe Theismann’s toilets.

But, continued I, wouldn’t people resent this invasion of their privacy? Such displeasure certainly did not come up in market surveys done in Denver, Colorado where “the reaction was very positive” in office buildings, she countered. P.J. was bullish on what she called “indoor billboards.”

What products will Required Reading reject? Laxatives? Cosmetics? Scott Paper products? Marchner replied that her firm reserves the right to approve all copy and that they do not want “bathroom products” promoted this way. Behind the smear-proof glass will also be, she assumed, some light diversions such as public service announcements (perhaps recycling themes?) and trivial questions (suggestion: outta there be a law???)

The serious theory behind the toilet stall ads is target marketing, Marchner observed. Ad rates on television and in the near-monopoly Washington Post prohibitive for small neighborhood businesses such as dry-cleaners and florists. They cannot afford paying to reach the greater Washington region because their customers only come from a few surrounding blocks.

But other attempts at “required reading” by free marketers have not done well. New York cabs were sites for “taxigrams” beaming ads to their back seat passengers. Massive complaining dropped that idea. Attempts to place ads on the ceilings of elevators (since most people look upward) never caught on. Ads sandwiched in between movies in cinemas, expected to spread quickly, are spreading slowly, except on airlines where you can’t walk out in protest. The Postal Service dropped a proposal a few years ago to sell advertising space on U.S. postage stamps — a captive product.

Somehow, advertising firms and their clients are not daunted by matters of taste or assaults on privacy. Who is anywhere to teach them? There is not one national consumer group devoted to countering bad, deceptive, fraudulent interfering or tasteless ads in the country. The Federal Trade Commission is asleep. The Advertising Review Board of the Better Business Bureau in New York City does not yet render adversary opinions on ads that may be accurate but are placed in an offensive location.

Standards of taste and propriety need public discussion and advertising agency introspection before the maraudering mercantile mind completely seizes mass marketing.

I have before me a two page newspaper advertisement by Xerox featuring pictures of Leonardo da Vinci using the Xerox desktop publishing machine. He is then quoted as saying “Xerox Desktop Publishing makes every document look like the work of a genius.” if Xerox is so desperate that it has to exploit and commercialize the memory of that great Renaissance Italian, let it keep its desktop machinery.

Another recent ad for a carpet sale on George Washington’s birthday has our first President featured in the center with a carpet over his head with the rolled up ends at both ears to simulate his traditional wig.

Who will set some boundaries to these merchants of nausea? Let’s have sore old fashioned American fed-upness pouring down on these huckstering snooks.