I remember the day -- or at least the month -- when a single advertiser started buying every billable surface inside a subway station so as to deliver an overwhelming heap of Message to transit passengers. You'd step from the train on your way into work, and suddenly you were in a pharmaceutical ad or an iPod commercial. Or, rather, you were the bleary-eyed wallflower glaring at the party's colorful dancers, still going strong from the night before.
Once an advertiser could buy an entire subway station, the next thought, clearly, was to go beyond simply filling the spaces with existing ad units to designing ads that are meant to hang in sequence. Like frames of animation, a line of billboards can deliver a long sentence or a joke, one phrase at a time.
This strategy does, of course, require some cooperation from the installers, who need to hang the signs in the right order. Otherwise you send idiosyncratic, needlessly ontological messages when simple persuasion is the goal.
Take the two Claritin ads, shown above, hanging in a San Francisco metro station. They're two of many in this series, but they occupy a prime location at the end of a hallway, the perfect spot for a one-two punch that, when read left to right, seems to claim that Claritin works so well its effects can be felt even before the drug is taken, a remarkable trait engineered by chemists who have finally tapped into a little known corollary of the placebo effect to create a drug that piggybacks on the serotonin -- or whatever it is -- that's released by the mere thought of taking a RediTab, by the faintest feeling of the foil wrapper against the fingertips, and who more impressively have engineered a tab that can be taken even after it has dissolved. Into what, taken how, the ad doesn't say. Perhaps it was dissolved into a purse or a backpack. Dissolving substances into my backpack is no trick, but I've never figured out how to consume them after it happens.
Then again, I've never tried. And they say that genius is the guts to try what average people won't.
On second thought, maybe the ads are aimed at people who walk backward, or people who read clauses right-to-left but words left-to-right, prime candidates for an allergy medication, both of them.