Friday, April 27, 2012

Efficiently Wasteful

Earlier this year, I walked into the Lifetime parking lot after a workout and noticed that someone had tucked one of those annoying Chinese takeout flyers under the windshield wiper of the Malibu.  My car wasn't the only one who'd been victimized--white slips of paper fluttered in the breeze on the windshields of every vehicle in the lot.  There's something very unsettling about the thought of strangers touching the Malibu, even if they're only lifting the wiper blade to slide a piece of paper underneath.  When you drive a vehicle that's been known to suffer major breakdowns while sitting untouched in a climate-controlled garage, even the little things pose a potentially catastrophic risk.  I was mildly annoyed, but the Malibu seemed to be unfazed and maintained its standard of mediocre performance and sub-par fuel efficiency.

Then, late last month, I was in the middle of my daily post-work, pre-workout routine, sitting in the Lifetime parking lot, wolfing down a container of vegetables and boiled chicken.  Out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention and interrupted me as I inhaled my flavorless meal.  Someone was walking in between the row of parked cars, pausing at each one, and sliding a flyer underneath the wiper.  It was the annoying flyer-placing guy, and I'd caught him in the act!  As he worked his way up the aisle of cars and approached the Malibu, I wondered if he'd have the courage to slide an ad under the wiper while I was sitting right there eating.

He reached the car next to me and finally noticed the strange guy eating chicken and staring at him from the parked Malibu next door.  Was he going to do it?  I glared at him, hoping he'd get the message that I wasn't interested in buying anything he was selling.  He backed away, skipped my windshield, and continued on his annoying way, littering the windshields of every other car in the parking lot.  Me: 1, annoying flyer guy: 0.  I dodged that bullet--no one puts two unwanted ads on my car in the same year.  I finished eating and went inside to work out, basked in glory.

When I came back outside after the workout, the parking lot was covered in snow.  This was terrible and shocking news, especially since it was a warm and sunny day...but wait...that wasn't snow!  The Lifetime parking lot was blanketed with white advertisements.  Apparently every single person did exactly what I had done months before when I found the ad under my windshield wiper--they pulled it off their car, threw it on the ground, and drove off without giving it a second thought.

At least it wasn't a Chinese takeout flyer this time--a closer look revealed that Liquor World & Tobacco was to blame for this out-of-season blizzard.  I'm surprised the descendants of Marilyn Monroe haven't presented the owners of Liquor World with a cease and desist order to get the likeness of their famous great-grandma yanked from the ads.  I'm sure Marylin liked her alcohol and tobacco, but even at her lowest point she would never have been caught dead anywhere near a run-down suburban Minneapolis booze shack like this.

I was pleased with my victory on the drive home, small though it may have been--I had successfully avoided my second unwanted ad of the year.  Good thing I enjoyed my success, because that sense of accomplishment would be short-lived.  When I got home, I walked up to my apartment door, turned the key in the lock, opened the door, and...bam!  Something ironic that had been wedged in my front door floated toward the floor:

What are the odds?!  While I was over at Lifetime narrowly escaping having my car unwillingly advertised upon, someone from Ju Yuan Chiese Restaurant was staking out my apartment, waiting to hit me where I live with a takeout ad!  Liquor World and Ju Yuan couldn't have coordinated this any better if they were working together.  Victory was not mine!

As I stood open-mouthed, staring at the flyer of doom, it struck me that flyer-based advertising is the most efficient process on the face of the earth...unfortunately, the only output of that perfectly efficient process is pure waste.  Not a single person wants one of these flyers.  That's why the Liquor World guy didn't knock on my widow, interrupt my meal, and hand me a flyer in person. And that's why he was placing them on the windshields of empty cars instead of handing them to people face-to-face as they left the gym.  It would take about fifteen seconds before someone punched him in the face.

Think about it--in what other situation do companies spend money to design and print a bunch of ads, pay someone to distribute them, and annoy and piss off potential customers who glance at the ads for a split second before throwing them on the ground?  It's a spectacular way to litter the ground and drive away customers while also wasting paper, time, money!  Spectacular!  Even if I were an alcohol, tobacco, or Chinese food fanatic, I would refuse to ever set foot in Liquor World or Ju Yuan simply out of principle and pent up frustration for having their advertising thrown in my face.

If small businesses feel the need to advertise with flyers, they could put themselves in a better position--and do it cheaper and more quickly--by cutting out the middlemen entirely.  Why not have the guy at the print shop take those hot-off-the-press flyers, run out into the parking lot, and throw them directly on the ground?  No alienated customers, and no time or money wasted distributing those frustrating flyers!

The dynamic duo of Liquor World and Ju Yuan may have won the battle that day, but I'll have the last laugh.  I'm off to order Italian takeout food and get drunk off someone else's liquor. Take that!

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