You know the type.
They stride briskly, torsos bent in Neanderthal hunch, glaring at the sidewalk, intent on getting where they’re going as quickly - and as brusquely - as their furrowed brows can carry them.
Urban pedestrians are purposeful beasts, lost in little worlds of contemplation and destination. Now, on the impossibly busy streets of midtown Manhattan, advertising has found an unusual way to get these people and their wallets off the street and into the store: Stop them, quite literally, in their tracks.
It’s old technology in a slick, high-tech package - projecting ads with light beams from inside street-level businesses directly onto sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to step right into the ads. For New York City, it’s an ideal attention-getter.
“They’re taking space that has no commercial value and making it valuable,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the Urban Research Center at New York University.
Citibank’s Rockefeller Center branch projects its moving logo onto the sidewalk day and night. Businessmen passing Comp USA on West 57th Street may find a computer mouse pointer creeping across their wingtips. And at Hammacher Schlemmer, which prides itself on innovative gadgetry, the sidewalk Bat Signal fits the company image perfectly.
“Here in New York City, we’re in the middle of the great chase to see what’s going to be cute next,” says David Liederman, co-owner of Television City, a theme restaurant near Radio City Music Hall that uses a projection system.
“In this day and age, advertising is a meltdown on the senses,” Liederman says. “We use whatever we can to get noticed. And this is perfect: Nobody trips over it. Nobody’s broken a leg on it. It just seems to fit in.”
Not that Manhattan’s pedestrians don’t already enough distractions. There are the legions of pushy compatriots, the fleets of flier-hander-outers, the crosswalk-encroaching cabs. The innards of subway cars are jammed with ads, as are the outsides of buses - entire buses, not merely the sides.
And in the past two months, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made sidewalk life even more challenging by announcing plans to crack down on jaywalkers and closing certain midtown crossings to pedestrians to improve, of all things, traffic flow.
Pedestrians groused but, like much that happens in New York, they seem to be taking it in, well, stride. Just the sort of jaded market advertisers need to reach.
“People walk around in such a daze in this town,” says Brian Lerner, a 30-year-old financial services manager from Boonton, N.J., who works in midtown.
“They just want to get from point A to point B,” Lerner says. “They’re conditioned to ignore things. But this is definitely a more active type of advertising. You’re getting hit by it, whether you like it or not.”
Such ads are, in effect, co-opting public property for free and blurring the line between city and store. Then again, it’s just light - not solid, barely palpable.
Just another example of consumerism pervading our every moment, sighs James B. Twitchell, author of “Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture.” He considers such ads a visual equivalent of being force-fed commercials while on hold.