The VIEW from here

When the urinal talks, will people really listen?

Gary Gould — Managing Editor

Gary Gould — Managing Editor

There was a time I thought I’d heard it all, but that was before the urinals in bars and restaurants started talking.

That’s right, over the recent holiday weekend restaurant and bar owners were asked by the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) to place “talking” urinal cakes in restrooms to encourage and remind patrons to call a cab or a friend to get home safely.

No joke — if you walked into the restroom at one of these establishments and went to relieve yourself, you may have heard a woman’s voice telling you not to drink and drive. The “cakes” feature a print message (in case you’re short on reading material while you do your business at the urinal) and a brief motion-activated audio.

A press release from the MLBA says the urinal cakes get the message across “using the elements of surprise and humor in a truly unique location will make a lasting impression on every male that sees it.”

I agree, this is pretty funny. It might also completely freak a drunk guy out and cause him to either stop drinking all together or go back for another round because now he’s hearing voices in his head.

This “technology” could be extended for other uses. How about talking toilet paper which reminds you it might be time to have your colon examined? Or hand soap which dispenses advice about sanitary hazards in the bathroom? How about a baby changing table in the bathroom that politely asks if all of your child’s immunizations are up to date? Yes, I know, I’m being facetious. Drunk driving is certainly no laughing matter, but I can’t help but think the talking urinal cake is sort of a joke in and of itself. Law enforcement struggles all the time with new ways to get the message about drinking and driving across to the public, and while this is certainly a unique way, I’m not sure it’s the best way. “Not only do we want to turn some heads and get people talking, we hope everyone takes the message to heart,” said

Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) which plans and coordinates this federally funded effort.

Certainly the message is serious. But really, having the toilet offering advice about drinking and driving is a little too much. There has to be a better, less absurd, way to get the message across. It doesn’t need to be a novelty, it just needs to work.

Spend the money on more advertising, or on better legislation or even better enforcement of existing laws — spend it on anything more serious than a deodorizing cake you pee on in the bathroom and it talks to you.

There is one really good advertising application I can think of for this sort of bathroom humor technology — it could go a long way in the growing arsenal of advertising tools politicians use during an election year. One talking urinal cake must be worth 100 yards signs, right?

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