Can Marketing Go Too Far?

The City of Chicago, where I live, recently began a big push to sell advertising on public spaces. Beautiful, iconic bridges and other public structures can now be plastered with advertising messages. Is this a legitimate source of revenue for cash-strapped city governments? Perhaps. Is it tacky? Absolutely.

Which raises the question as to what are the limits of tasteful marketing. We’ve long experienced advertising in public restrooms, but recently I ran across a company that is promoting user-activated urinals. Not only can you purchase space on urinal cake covers, the covers will light up and deliver a voice message whenever…well, please don’t make me explain how the devices are activated.

As marketers, what is our responsibility with all of this? Is it really an “anything that works” approach or should we set standards?

As with most things, brand is the answer. We are the guardians of our brands. We need to protect and nurture them—and that includes the proper choice of media. Will the use of this media enhance the brand and support long-term goals, or will it tarnish the brand? There is a difference between having your name on a sports stadium (probably good marketing) and plastering your name over public monuments (most likely bad marketing).

As for talking urinals, somewhere there may be a brand that will be enhanced by user-activated urinal cake covers, but I’m not sure I would like to work on that brand. Sometimes marketing just goes too far.