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Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide from Ad Barrage

Marketing: The backs of jockeys and their horses soon will become advertising vehicles.

July 24, 2001|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Advertisers, who seem determined to plaster their messages everywhere, are about to turn horses and jockeys into billboards.

The California Horse Racing Board has voted to drop barriers to advertising on jockeys' apparel, owners' silks and race tracks' saddle cloths. The move allows the racing industry to join in what has become an escalating advertising assault.

The average American already is being bombarded with at least 3,000 marketing messages daily, ranging from radio jingles and billboards to apparel logos, Internet banner ads and free samples left hanging on doorknobs.

Advertisers acknowledge that most people notice only a small percentage of the thousands of marketing messages they're hit with daily. But, driven by fear that consumers soon will be able to zap the mainstay 30-second TV commercial with personal video recorders, marketers are scrambling to find in-your-face advertising platforms that can't be ignored.

"The simple fact is that traditional advertising isn't working well," said Atlanta-based marketing consultant Al Ries. "If it were, you wouldn't see so many advertisers looking for new ways to spend their money."

Advertisers are winning starring roles in new television shows, painting their messages on concrete barriers in parking spaces and seeking permission to insert products electronically into TV reruns.

But it's unlikely that horse racing will end up looking like logo-covered NASCAR, or that jockeys and horse owners will command the big-dollar endorsements of big-league sports.

"The bottom line is eyeballs equal exposure value," said Don Hinchey, director of creative services for Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing company. "You have to ask how prominent the exposure is going to be, is it going to occur during marquee events and is it going to be televised?"

What could it be worth to put a corporate logo on a jockey's back or on the owner's colorful racing silks? In England, advertising generates an estimated $4 million to$6 million each year.

"How revenue would look here is an unknown," said former California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, now president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. "We first have to have all of the [proposed] rule in effect. Then it would depend upon negotiations between the parties on how we agree to proceed."

Like placing ads on jockeys' clothes, many of the new marketing maneuvers are decidedly low-tech. Procter & Gamble is "Charminizing" rest rooms at the California State Fair to illustrate the tangible benefits of its paper products. And speaking of a captive audience, Monster.com last week carved its corporate logo into a five-acre field under the glide path of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Technology is aiding the pitching process.

For example, negotiations are under way to allow digital technology companies to drop images into reruns of popular television shows--think of soft drink cans and computers popping up on desks during reruns of your favorite detective show.

Hard to Distinguish Competing Messages

And Chatsworth-based AVG is adapting audio-animatronic technology honed in amusement parks to serve as three-dimensional salesmen along store aisles.

Is it all getting to be too much?

"This is a time of tremendous arrogance and overreaching by corporate America," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader. "Corporations are trying to lay claim to every micrometer of space for commercial advertising. They don't view anything as sacred anymore. And that's an abhorrent way to live."

The blizzard of competing messages makes it hard to distinguish one pitch from another. New York-based market research firm CMR, for example, now tracks advertising expenditures by 900,000 brands.

The result is a growing wave of alternative product pitches. Ads are showing up inside other ads--such as the Motorola cellular phones that regularly pop up in Levi Strauss' denim-wear commercials.

"It starts when you turn on the radio in the morning and read your newspaper," said Monica Karo, chief media officer for New York-based advertising agency TBWA Worldwide. "You can only absorb a small percentage of it all."

But marketers probably won't ease up on the advertising throttle.

"Go into the supermarket and you see messages on the carts and stickers on the floor near where products are sold," said Kevin Coyne, executive vice president with New York-based advertising agency Bates North America. "Competition is so strong that marketers keep experimenting with new ways and means to get messages out."

Advertising agency Chiat/Day /TBWA has slapped ads on bananas, coffee cup sleeves, gas pump handles and dry cleaners hangers. The ad agency hung up on a company that offered to print ads on condoms and balked at a legally questionable pitch for stickers that bartenders could attach to bills while making change.

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