Friday, April 9, 2010

A Little Privacy Please!!! Washroom Advertisements Across Edmonton

Washroom advertisements are perhaps one of the most specific forms of narrowcast media, and they blur the line between public and private interpellation. Our need for privacy in public has allowed advertisers to infiltrate the facilities and take advantage of our several minute bathroom breaks and force us to stare not at a wall or stall, but at yet another presentation of an item that would complete our supposedly incomplete lives. For the majority of advertisements in the present day, we as viewers have always had the choice as to whether or not we look. Washroom advertisements are a different story; their targets are narrower and strongly dependent on factors such as sex, social status and context of the building in which they are found. In that way advertisers are able to target audiences in settings specific to the context of the product being sold. In a society where time is money, advertisers utilize even our most private seconds spent in a washroom, to maximize the number of advertisements to which we are exposed, and capitalize on every usable moment of marketable time.

Having a specific audience can be an advantage to advertisers. Unlike billboards or television commercials that can target large groups of people, washroom advertisements can be one of the most specific forms of narrowcast media. Obviously only men are allowed in men’s washrooms and women in women’s, but the type of advertisements also reflect the type of person who would frequent the building where ads are found. This is where the separation of High and Low culture plays a strong role. Considering these two advertisements that were found at Grant MacEwan University, one can see how the producers of the advertisements use the student lifestyle in order to interpellate the viewer. This Volkswagen advertisement captures the viewer by the bolded phrase “You think your exams are tough?” and then begins to sell a vehicle as having “tough” characteristics. The ad targets students, generally associated with lower income or low culture. With such a narrow target audience, producers of washroom advertisements are able to strongly interpellate their viewers. Another advertisement is one for Quicktax Student Edition. The producer uses ease of use to sell their product that is created specifically for the student. Advertisements found in bars or clubs also direct the product to the type of consumer they are targeting. The viewer coming into contact with this type of advertisement will most likely be under the influence of alcohol, and therefore more easily influenced. By placing ads for alcohol in the bathrooms of these establishments, the desire to consume more alcohol is more easily achieved. This is the same with ads for cigarettes, which are also commonly found in the bathrooms of bars and clubs. Many people smoke socially, and the presentation of a cigarette, especially while under the influence of alcohol can trigger a desire for that product, even if it is not a behaviour which the consumer is not usually involved. In contrast, some ads cater to members of high culture. Restaurants such as the Cactus Club in West Edmonton promote a high culture experience for their customers. To complete this experience, instead of advertisements in the bathrooms, there are couture fashion shows playing on a video screen. This is merely the advertising company selling a high culture product to a consumer, who either belongs to or desires to have a high culture lifestyle, catering to the connoisseur.

Certain medium appeal to more than one type of viewer. This message saying “Please wash your hands frequently and thoroughly” found in the washroom of London Drugs has more than one message to more than one viewer. It speaks to the consumer of London Drugs, encouraging them to practice proper hand washing, but it also provides the same message to the employees of London Drugs. Other messages, typically found in fast food restaurants, provide people with the message “Employees are required to wash hands before leaving restroom.” The main audience for a message such as this may be to the employees, reminding them to always wash their hands. However, it could also be meant for the patrons of such restaurants, ensuring them that the employees are in fact washing their hands each time they visit the washroom. The restaurant is actually advertising their hygiene policy, and they do so by making a private policy that’s meant for employees public, where the consumers can interpret it as an advertisement for how well established the restaurant’s hygiene policy is.

Media can also be used to accentuate certain environments. In restaurants that are looking to create a certain atmosphere, advertisements can interfere with what sort of mood the establishment is meant to have. As a way for media to be incorporated with the feel of a classy washroom, advertisements above urinals can be replaced by televisions. In this restaurant, for example, the two televisions above the urinals are constantly tuned in to TSN sports highlights. This acts as an advertisement for TSN, but it can also change the atmosphere of a restaurant into a classier, more upscale establishment. Replacing the kitsch notion of wall hung advertisements with the avante-garde nature of above-the-urinal televisions exhibit a touch of class to the otherwise unimpressive activity of visiting the restroom. Another way of fusing class with advertising is demonstrated by this restaurant that went above and beyond basic bathroom business by providing some extra pampering for their patrons. In this establishment, the washroom has no on the wall advertisements, however, the counter is riddled with brand name hand sanitizer, mouthwash, hand soap, hand cream, moisturizer, and facial tissue. This method of product placement doesn’t require the establishment to disturb the well-designed walls, complete with framed artwork and a paint job that “really pulls the room together”, instead, they are able to get advertising across to the consumer by the numerous soaps, fragrances, and lotions which leave the paying customers feeling more pampered and valued; all part of the restaurant experience.

In an advertisement such as this, commodity fetishism is used in order to add a patriotic message to the bar that is being advertised. As a play on the popular message of exploring Canada’s great outdoors, the advertisement has changed the message in order to further add a Canadian theme to their establishment while also drawing people in to “Canada’s great indoors”. Visiting a bar is then emptied of it’s standard meaning (socializing, drinking, etc) and replaced with a sense of obligation to exhibit one’s loyalty to the country of Canada by going to Hudson’s. This advertisement embodies Canadian patriotism in order to assist the viewer in decoding the message the company wants to project about creating a desirable Canadian lifestyle.

Group Members: Nick Jacobs and Daniella Hiob


Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: University Press.

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