Guys, are we ready for this?

According to unconfirmed research by a non-partisan think tank outside Shin Pond, Maine, the current composition of our much put-upon earth is roughly 7 percent hydrogen, 8 percent oxygen, 11 percent silicon and 74 percent advertising.

I guess that’s no big surprise (except for the, like, hydrogen, oxygen and silicon part …).

Advertising is everywhere – on billboards, buses and ballparks.

And soon it will be even more everywhere.

Healthquest Technologies Inc. is planning on taking high tech advertising to the very heart of the sacrosanct American male rest stop – the urinal.

The Islip, N.Y., company’s latest invention – called “Wizmark” – is described as an “interactive urinal communicator” designed to catch the eye of anyone using one of the ubiquitous male restroom appliances.”

As a one-of-a-kind, fully functional interactive device, Wizmark can talk, sing or flash a string of lights around a promotional message while greeting a visitor. The large, anti-glare, waterproof (well, duh…) viewing screen is strategically located just above the drain to ensure guaranteed viewing without interruptions,” the company’s website enthuses.

Uh-huh…

The effectiveness of Wizmark is based upon rigidly prescribed urinal behavior passed down from father to son, generation after generation:

  • Face forward (this is really important)
  • Eyes down&
  • No small talk
  • No singing of Broadway show tunes.

Since 95 percent of American males follow these rules religiously, Wizmark promises a practically captive audience every time an unsuspecting fellow strolls into a men’s room to take care of business.

“Realizing this unwritten code, the appeal of this marketing concept to you as an advertiser is that it effectively assures your ad will attract the attention of, and be read by, the ever-elusive targeted male audience you are constantly aiming for,” the company promises in describing its “perfect guerilla marketing medium.”

Uh-huh…

On the surface, this does sound like an effective new advertising technique.

On the other hand, one has to remember that we’re talking about a restroom fixture that has been around for decades with few, if any, radical changes. Ditto for the rules of using said fixture.

Most guys simply do not expect their urinal-of-choice to start talking to them, burst into song or put on an impromptu electronic light show. Therefore, such behavior can be rather unsettling. If not forewarned, startled visitors could wind up fleeing men’s rooms in a state of unzipped dishabille, bellowing about space aliens, terrorists and the Son of Sam (not necessarily in that order).

These surprises also might backfire for cocktail lounges and taverns. Think about it – you stroll into the men’s room after your usual four martinis and the urinal begins talking to you. Chances are you’re going to start seriously reconsidering your future alcohol consumption…

Originally published October 22, 2006

Close encounters of the mushroom kind

I made a huge tactical error during a telephone conversation with an old friend a few evenings ago. During what I believed to be some harmless small talk, I foolishly mentioned that I’d consumed a large portabella mushroom for dinner.

The aforementioned friend was none other than my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, and my brief remark about the oversized gourmet mushroom sent him through the roof.

Sapper, forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, told me in no uncertain terms that I’d endangered my home, the security of the nation and possibly the future of the human race by consorting with portabella mushrooms.

“So they took you in too, eh, bro? You really believed that was a simple, garden variety mushroom that you invited into your dining room?” he asked with ill-concealed disdain. “I really thought you were smarter than that. I mean, did it ever occur to you that mushrooms weren’t supposed to be as big as footballs?”

Before I could reply, Sapper answered for me.

“Of course not, Mr. Trendsetter Gourmet. You just scooped up that so-called mushroom and ran with it, just like everybody else who’s fallen for their insidious alien plot …”

Alien plot?

“Think about it, pal. When was the last time you saw a little can of Green Giant portabella mushrooms, or saw a portabella pizza from Domino’s? Never, that’s when, because before 1978 nobody had ever seen one. And that’s because they’re NOT OF THIS EARTH!”

(I positively love conversations like this.)

“The guy on the Internet at the sheet metal shop laid it all out for me, bro, and it ticks like a watch,” Sapper explained. “Shortly before 9 p.m. on Nov. 12 or Dec. 6 or something in 1978, no fewer than eight guys in Portland – one of them a respected grain broker – saw a group of five octagonal lights crisscrossing the skies overhead really quick and goofy-like and then they just disappeared …

“Yeah, the lights went away, but not the portabella mushrooms and now they’re everywhere and you just don’t get it, do you? How much clearer do I have to make it for you? Start with UFOs, factor in Portland where everything’s just a little bit weirder and then multiply by about 500 billion giant mushrooms just showin’ up outta nowhere like your Uncle Beauregard at a barbecue,” Sapper explained slowly, as if talking to a slightly backward 8-year-old.

“You think those big mushrooms don’t know what they’re doing, bro? First they fool the gourmets, then they fool the man in the street and then they fool Congress and the National Guard and the United Nations. Before you know it, that outer space fungus will have infiltrated every aspect of American life and taken over,” Sapper warned. “In fact, the takeover’s already begun – and at the highest levels of government, Mr. Complacent Head-in-the-Sand Suburbanite.”

I was prepared to scoff at Sapper’s latest conspiracy theory, but he silenced me with what he termed imprescriptible evidence.

“Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself. The next time you’re watchin’ ol’ George W. Bush on the TV, kinda squooze yer eyes together so he gets sorta fuzzy around the edges. Then realign ’em and see what ya got. If it looks like a portabella mushroom, talks like a portabella mushroom and walks like a …”

Uh-oh.

Originally published February 4, 2001