Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Advertising to Inmates is a Marketing Crime

The Eire County Holding Center in Buffalo is going to start capitalizing on the attention of its captive audience by turning it into bonus income from advertising revenue. Aided by a digital advertising services company, the jail is going to sell space on its high-definition information televisions to, who else, defense attorneys and bail bondsmen. The program is being dubbed — what else — “captive ads,” and will place one screen near the booking area and another in a lobby to be seen by friends and families waiting to visit inmates. The cost is $40 per week with a one-year commitment. The head of the ad services company told the media that "about half" of the available space has been sold and that the program will net the county between "$8,000-$15,000 a year."

In my opinion, "captive ads" are in poor taste and the branding strategy behind the program will reflect as much. The strategic pitfall to captive ads is summed up by the poplar aphorism coined by the late Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. That medium, designed to capitalize on the attention of people in a vulnerable state, clearly sends the message of being the criminal-defense equivalent to ambulance chasing. It's a medium that poorly reflects the truly valuable service an attorney is sworn to provide for their clients. Those that choose to market their expertise in this manner are committing a branding crime.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.

1 comment:

Alexander said...

As a side, I just want to add that finding new and better ways and places to place ads is a completely misguided solution to the marketing challenge a lot of brands face. In fact, I believe it creates a new marketing problem.

But a digital ad services firm exists only to sell ad space, not help brands solve real marketing problems that need solving. So these are exactly the type of things that "marketers" end up creating and doing.

Real marketers don't look for more places to advertise their brand, they develop ways a brand can have a deeper meaning to the consumer.