cut the clutter
advertisers know they have to
get our attention - somehow.

blame it on tivo, the internet, or a general glut of advertising, but whatever the cause, today's marketers are feverishly searching for new and innovative ways to break through the clutter. while they're not abandoning television commercials, print ads, and direct mail, they're looking for attention in elevators, taxis, movie ­theaters, subways, and even bathroom stalls.

"companies have recognized that it is possible to market, advertise, and pitch products in a lot of nontraditional places," observes steve yastrow, author of brand harmony and president of yastrow marketing, a consulting firm. "every point of contact with a customer or potential customer can either enhance or detract from a brand."

behind this radical shift is the reality that the power of "brute force" advertising is waning, yastrow says. in the past, "companies with the biggest budgets won." that's no longer the case. with piles of junk mail obscuring desks, billions of spam messages assaulting in-boxes, and countless ads glutting the airwaves, grabbing a person's attention is a herculean task. he estimates that the typical consumer encounters as many as 3,000 promotional messages a day.

to battle for mind share and market share, advertisers are literally changing the landscape. some methods, like captive advertising, attempt to capitalize on individuals who have nowhere else to go or look - such as those seated in a subway. others, such as peer-to-peer marketing, rely on trendsetters to spread the word. these advertisers hand out free products - a mobile phone, clothing, or a new cd, for example - and the trendy folk show them off to friends. it's word-of-mouth, 21st-century style.

and it's not just new for newness' sake. these guerilla methods work. when ford motor company launched its focus vehicle, it handed keys to employees of celebrities like madonna and adam sandler. people saw the cars parked in front of trendy nightclubs and started to buy. seeding the vehicles among 120 trendsetters helped ford sell more than 286,000 focus cars in its first year alone.

so others are following suit. the las vegas monorail, now carrying gamblers to and from various casinos on the fabled strip, is selling every train to sponsors. for instance, hansen's beverage inked a 10-year, $10 million deal to sponsor the monster train (named for its monster energy drink). the company will pass out samples to passengers and run display video ads inside the train cars.

the holy grail, of course, is targeting the right ads to the right people. and technology is increasingly making that possible - whether it's an lcd panel in an elevator piping in ads for harried business executives or custom-printed coupons at supermarket checkouts (selected in sync with each customer's buying habits). "advertisers are pulling out all the stops to get people's attention," observes denise garcia, principal analyst at gartnerg2.