20 December, 2007

Convict Commercials

Sitting at a stop light in North Baltimore this weekend, I took note of a group of work-release dudes from the correctional facility sweeping the streets, picking up trash, and generally doing what they could to pay down their debt to society. They labored in grey jumpsuits, D.O.C. emblazoned on the back. Say what you want, but the Department of Corrections knows how to get the most of their ad dollars, and they don’t even know it. For the price of a pair of overalls and screen-printing, they’re sending some powerful messages to folks on the outside, everywhere.

For instance, a D.O.C. jumpsuit tells me right away that the guy with the teardrop tattoo on his cheek is not selling designer purses.

More interestingly though, they’re also providing a PSA of sorts for anyone who’s ever looked at a 7-11 and thought to themselves, “You know, I bet it’d be pretty cool to rob the crap out of that place.” In effect, our freedom-challenged friends are doing us all a great favor, serving (time) as coverall-clad out-of-home cautionary tales. Now that’s as powerful as any billboard warning me to stay off crack or do my best not to batter my wife. They’ve got my attention; it’s not every day you see an advertisement that’s capable of shanking you with a toothbrush shiv.

I propose a marketing experiment. Want the kids to eat healthier, stay in school, not set pets on fire, etc.? Nothing a little stenciling in the prison laundry can’t take care of:

Why not? A local agency actually used the prison itself as a billboard, placing a prominent banner on an outside wall, visible to drivers passing by on the expressway. In the spirit of one-upsmanship, let’s step it up. Sure, you’ll hear complaints about prisoner rights, cruel and unusual punishment and blah, blah, blah hippie-rainbow-wahhhfests. But it’s nothing a few cartons of cigarettes and hush-bribes for the ACLU can’t take care of.

And, naturally, this new marketing channel will become wildly popular. Don’t be surprised if a few select product marketers jump in to drink from the well of my genius. Security systems, police equipment, electronic surveillance—the opportunity’s there. I can see it now: cruising down the highway in my chauffeured stretch Hummer, I notice a guy in an orange jumpsuit mowing grass on the shoulder. Covered with grass clippings and the shame of whatever crime he's committed, he turns to reveal the text on his back: “How was I supposed to know they had LoJack?”

It could happen.

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