Captive, My Captive

A captive audience has always been appealing to marketers: Think subway-car placards, commercials in movie theaters (not to mention trailers), and on-hold phone messages. So it shouldn’t be surprising that ads are now appearing on those trays you’re meant to dump your shoes, belts, and electronic devices into as you pass through airport security.

I haven’t come across it myself. But at a dinner recently, two friends, both of them frequent travelers, were talking about it. “I just saw them last week, with an ad for some online shoe company on them,” said one. He couldn’t recall the name of the company, but when I suggested that it might have been Zappos, he said it probably was.

If Zappos is doing it, chances are it’s a good idea; in terms of marketing infallibility, Zappos is the pope. Even so, I have my doubts. For one thing, this is hardly targeted marketing, which could be why my friend didn’t remember the brand being advertised. (Apparently he buys footwear as often as I buy swampland in Florida. Or fresh vegetables, for that matter.)

Then, too, amid the anxiety of finding a plastic bag to put all your liquids into because the one you were carrying isn’t quite the right size and of continually checking your watch while the gentleman in front of you holds up the line as he empties a piggy bank’s worth of spare change from his pockets, how likely is anyone to remember the URL on the side of those trays?

And if you did remember the URL, there’s the danger it could have negative connotations by association. Last month I spent a good half-hour trudging through security at New York’s JFK Airport. It was mob rule, with no orderly queues and lots of elbows and pushing and perspiration (and that was just on my part). Short of James McAvoy appearing to whisk me away onto a magic carpet for two, nothing could have made me think of those sweaty, sticky, harried minutes favorably. I certainly wouldn’t want consumers to associate my brand, even subconsciously, with such an unpleasant experience.

Though maybe I’m overreacting. Your thoughts?

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