Stuck in Neutral

Alocal radio station chose the morning rush hour to report that more than 200 intersections in this great road-ribbed land of ours are perpetually gridlocked. That’s up 40 percent from 1999, the newsman gleefully informed listeners, myself among them.

Even more happily, he noted that the most immobile intersection in America is the junction of the 101 and 405 freeways in L.A.—more precisely, in Sherman Oaks, aka Smog City.

I, however, was a highway away from happy. I was listening to this story while being blinded by the early-morning sun and sitting motionless behind a Range Rover—smack in the middle of the junction of the 101 and 405 freeways.

According to the data, it appears motorists fritter away a combined 20 million-plus hours of priceless life each year at the junction of the 101 and 405. I myself probably account for about 10 million of that.

I wish this report had come out two weeks ago, when 1,100 people gathered in Orlando to attend the annual 4A’s Media Conference.

We were all there at the Royal Pacific Resort—which sometimes took your drink order at the bar, occasionally delivered your dry cleaning when you asked and put some people up in cots because they overbooked the hotel—to learn how to stay in touch with the consumer. And it’s easy to stay in touch with anybody who drives to work. You can reach us at any one of 200 intersections coast to coast, rushing to work at a snail’s pace, twice a day every day, an hour and a half each way.

Where did consumers go? Well, quite a few of us are at the junction of … well, you get the point.

Of course, you mostly can’t reach us with billboards, because of all the regulations against unsightly outdoor. In many parts of Southern California, in fact, you see nary a board—nothing except unsightly trees and the occasional Spanish-tile roof.

And you can’t truly reach us with radio, because really, when we’re in the midst of one of our “brownouts,” those rush-hour moments of Zen when we’re on automatic pilot and don’t hear or see anything for 10 miles, how many of your radio spots do you think we retain? Even the “funny” ones. (Maybe especially the “funny” ones.)

Advertisers are ignoring on-the-road media and thereby forsaking a whole new way to cut through the clutter.

I mean it. The horn medium, for one, is woefully underutilized. Imagine hundreds of gridlocked drivers paid to honk “I’m lovin’ it” in unison. Or commuters with LED displays on top of their cars that read, “Four new tires: $300. Annual brake repair: $600. A light-rail system and sanity returned: Priceless.”

Then there’s in-road integration. We’re not moving anyway. Why not etch ads into the asphalt? “Not going anywhere for a while? Have a Snickers. Available at the Chevron station 500 yards up the road. You’ll get there by dusk, easy.”

I don’t know what all the hand-wringing about reaching the public is about. They’re all stewing in their sedans.

Now, you wouldn’t reach the masses who commute to work via public transport this way, but there’s no such thing as a mass medium anymore. Besides, nobody rides trains and buses except domestics and ad execs in Connecticut, anyway.

And you probably still wouldn’t reach young males, because even the ones old enough to drive are too stupefied to notice anything.

But we need to get the wheel turning on these new ad vehicles. Because you don’t have to touch consumers. Just honk.