I have a few suggestions.
1. Remote, primitive tribes. True, this is a shrinking market, but it hasn't been totally sucked dry yet. Think of the possibilities! After a day of hunting and/or gathering, these people have got to have a lot of needs they're probably not yet aware of: moisturizer, for one; athlete's foot powder, certainly; a decent fluoridating mouthwash with tartar control and gingivitis prevention; a camcorder, VCR and TV. Why should they let the anthropologists record their ancient and soon-to-be-extinct rituals and folkways when they can record them themselves and offer them to the anthropologists in exchange for the hard currency that they will need to survive in the modern world; have I mentioned fluffy bathtowels yet? Granted, I have no idea what these remote, primitive peoples' needs are. Research must be done. No intrepid anthropologist should be allowed to enter a rain forest without a marketing team. (Note to marketing team: bring mosquito repellent!)
2. Prisoners. Sure, a lot of prisoners get to watch TV and read newspapers and magazines, but the trouble is that so few of them have discretionary income. The inmate economy is a barter economy, and I think this is something ad agencies and their clients are going to have to be more open to in the future. So a product that would likely be in demand by a large segment of the prison population - let's use anal salve as a random example - would have to be priced not in dollars but in packs of cigarettes. What would the client do with the cigarettes? Simple: Pay the agency, or use the cigarettes as a promotional giveaway, or perhaps as part of a severance package for downsized employees.
3. Slaves. According to the United Nations, there are now four million slaves worldwide. As slavery is largely clandestine, this demographic will be hard to locate, but think of the revenues when you do. As with any involuntarily confined and immobilized population, slaves are probably going to respond well to anything with the word free in it, so heads up to the folks working on the Stayfree Maxipads account. And anyone working on a product that's fat-free or sugar-free or wrinkle-free or fragrance-free or odor-free is, well, home free. At the very least, you've got a head start in the slave market.
4. Fetuses. Let's face it, Roe vs. Wade is on its way out. I say, if you can't kill 'em, pitch 'em. How? Technology is not my area, but if we can look at a video monitor and see an ultrasound image of them, surely they should be able to look at a surgically implanted video monitor and see an ultrasound image of us. What to sell a fetus? The food in there has got to be pretty boring. Instead of amniotic fluid, how about cream soda?
I also foresee a potential shift in the demographics of advertisers themselves, having to do with the large number of dogs in TV ads lately. The dogs are talking and singing, they are dancing, they are winking and leering and, I believe, setting the stage for a canine takeover of the ad business. I personally will like being advertised to by dogs. Dogs are much less concerned with hipness and irony than humans are, and I think this will be reflected in the kinds of ads they produce: happy, earnest, unabashedly emotional ads that convey a genuine excitement about the product. Sure, dogs might use their new position to get humans to eat the food we've been making them eat for years, but as someone who's already eating dog food anyway, I can say with authority that it actually isn't all that bad when washed down with cream soda - as long as you drink it from a big bowl.
Matthew Sharpe is the author of Stories From the Tube, a collection of short stories based on TV spots, published by Villard Books, 1998. His work has appeared in Details, Conde Nast Traveler and Harper's.
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