A meticulously groomed man in a suit and overcoat, shoehorned into a sweating, sneezing crush of rush-hour humanity on the New York City subway, pointed to an ad above his head and wrinkled his nose.
The advertisement read: "You are the 423rd person to touch that pole today. Enough said.""Ew!" the man said, grabbing a pole to keep from falling as the train jerked to a stop. A friend grimaced and wiped her hand on her coat.
Nearby was another ad that warned, "The last guy holding that pole was named Sal Monella."
The ad campaign is for a new antibacterial hand lotion, and it capitalizes on New Yorkers' squeamish relationship with their subway.
It's "the `ew!' factor," said Gail Taryn, a spokeswoman for Gotham Inc., the ad agency handling the campaign for Keri Anti-Bacterial Hand Lotion.
And it's only in New York.
"What better way to get people thinking about germs and antibacterial products than the subway?" asked Robin Koval, the Gotham executive overseeing the account.
The ads cover one entire side of 570 60-foot-long subway cars, all but forcing commuters to ponder such concepts as, "The turnstiles have at least 11,700,000 germs. (Have a nice day.)" That's a made-up number, but Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the maker of Keri products, has hired a microbiologist to actually count germs on subway poles, tokens and pay phones by swabbing one square inch of surface areas and doing a little multiplication. The numbers will be released next week, with free lotion samples, outside subway stations.
Judging from commuters' squirms, the message is on target.
"It's a sick ad campaign," Jeff Jacobs, a 31-year-old financial consultant, said with a laugh. "I don't want to think about it."
He added, however, "I'll probably buy it."
Catharine Scruggs, 34, an education administrator, read the ads with a look of revulsion.
"I already feel that way when I ride the subway," she said. "I think it's really effective, because it disgusts you as you ride. There are people sneezing on you, touching their sticky hands on the bars."
The rest of America is seeing a more traditional advertising campaign for the lotion, with TV commercials featuring a mother and child.