I had just returned from a quick trip to Albertson's grocery store in my Chevrolet when I grabbed a Coca-Cola and slice of Domino's pizza, turned on the Sony television and tuned in the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.
On the screen, the announcers noted that the umpire was wearing a newfangled helmet for the first time. Remarkable as that may be, the interesting thing to the announcers was that the black helmet on the umpire's head was blank.
No advertisement for Nike. No advertisement for Pepsi. No Toyota. No Monster.com. No Charles Schwab. No Ralph Lauren. No Holiday Inn. No nothin'.
"How can this be?" they wondered. "Doesn't the umpire realize the advertising potential?"
Apparently not, as the camera swung away to follow a fly ball in front of the giant Coca-Cola bottle in left field at Pacific Bell Park. Because everything's for sale.
Don't get me wrong. I like advertising. I looooove advertising. It pays my salary - even though my job is overseeing the news department, which is responsible for filling in the blank spaces between advertisements in the newspaper.
So let's just get it out of the way right now that I think advertising is a good thing. In moderation. In some kind of reasonable taste. As long as it's not everywhere I freaking look.
Take that baseball game, for example. The sign on the wall behind the batter changes every inning. The people in the ballpark don't know that, because all they see is a green wall. But computer-generated advertising makes my television think there's something there, so it shows me the ad.
Try watching an NBA game sometime, or the NFL. Of course, stock-car racing figured all this out long ago and so not only the cars but the drivers themselves are moving billboards.
But there are insidious changes afoot. They're inserting advertising where advertising previously feared to tread.
"The television industry is working overtime to figure out how to prosper in a future in which commercials as we currently think of them may be passe," writes Eric Effron in a magazine called Brill's Content. "Accordingly, a lot of smart, motivated people are thinking about product placement in a whole new way."
Try these on for size:
- Last year, computer-generated products were placed in a UPN science-fiction show called "Seven Days" after the program was filmed.
This opens up all kinds of possibilities, according to Effron, such as the ability to put name-brand products into reruns. He conjures up the possibility of Beaver Cleaver not just dunking cookies, but dunking Oreo cookies.
- During CBS News coverage of the millennium celebration, a giant CBS logo appeared behind Dan Rather as we watched on TV. In reality, the backdrop was NBC's Jumbotron advertising screen at Times Square. It was altered digitially to conform to the proper network.
- A firm called Adaboy Inc. is placing logos, slogans and other advertising messages in on-line computer games. That's not particularly unusual, except for the ability to tailor the message to the player.
In Effron's example, a 17-year-old might see a soft-drink ad while he plays a hockey game against a 24-year-old, who is seeing an automobile ad.
With all this electronic wizardry about, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that ads and commercials are popping up everywhere. Just like advertising dollars fuel the newspaper, they help propel the Internet and the television stations.
Shoot, you can get free Internet service, free phone service, free computers ... if you agree to watch all the ads.
In fact, there's an outfit that will give you a free car. You have to drive it 30,000 miles a year and, oh yeah, it's painted as a giant advertisement. One more thing: The radio plays only one station, and it's all advertising all the time. But for a new car ....
Until today, I thought I had heard of every advertising pitch imaginable. Then came one I'd never considered before.
It seems a novelist, Bill Fitzhugh, was trying to think up some ways to make his new book more marketable. It didn't hurt that the novel, "Cross Dressing," is a satirical look at the advertising industry.
So after doing a little inquiring of potential sponsors, Fitzhugh rewrote portions of his book to include passages like this one:
"Dan pulled out a handcrafted wooden box with an etching of the Glenlivet Distillery and its founding year prominently displayed on the inside lid. He held it up as if it were a holy relic. 'This is a limited-edition collection of five vintage-dated single-malt Scotch whiskeys produced by the world renowned Glenlivet Distillery.'"
I don't know. This seems to have gone too far, inserting advertising into the passages of a novel.
Maybe I'd feel differently if I could think up a cagey advertising scheme of my own. Maybe, as I sit here typing at my Macintosh computer, with a fresh, cold bottle of Sobe tea at my side, an idea will come to mind.
If not, I'll think about it some more tonight as I drive home past Taco Bell, AM/PM, the Carson Nugget, Shell, the Carson Station, Burger King, the Carson Mall, Texaco ....
Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.