Starting last spring, patrons using the men's washroom at Steamworks Brewing Company in Vancouver were taken aback when scarlet-red writing appeared suddenly on the mirror they were looking at.
"My body is absolutely stunning," it said. "Want to see it? Text 'photos' to 32075."
Was there a ghost using lipstick to write on the restaurant's mirror?
Not quite. The come-hither message was a BMW ad campaign using AddMirror, an advertising medium that combines two-way glass and LED backlight shining through film to project images onto what otherwise appears to be an ordinary vanity mirror.
"It's an effective way to reach the audience," says Steamworks owner Eli Gershkovitch. "They're in a place where they're somewhat captive."
In the past, Mr. Gershkovitch refused to allow advertising to invade his restaurant's restrooms. "But I liked the AddMirror concept because they add an element of fun," he says.
When a person approaches an AddMirror mirror, a motion sensor triggers the ad to launch according to a pre-programmed loop.
In a recent campaign for the 2011 Edge SUV by Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., the mirror ad began with the phrase "Touch me," which appeared as if it was finger-written on a patch of fogged-up glass.
Seconds later, another fog patch appeared, this time with the words "Talk to me." This was then followed by another fog: "Drive me." The ad ended with an image of the Ford Edge on the lower left corner of the mirror and the Ford logo on the lower right.
"The mirror is like print that moves," explains Elliott Atkins, president of AddMirror Canada Ltd., based in Oakville, Ont. "For advertisers, this means they can tell their story in a dynamic way and really capture the attention of that person in front of the mirror, who is surprised and intrigued at the same time."
The technology was created by the AddMirror parent company, based in the U.K. Mr. Atkins and his business partner, Peter Petrusich, brought rights for AddMirror in Canada about two years ago.
AddMirror Canada launched its first ad campaign in October, 2009. The client was Absolut Vodka. Mr. Atkins and Mr. Petrusich wanted to target an affluent audience ranging in age from about 25 to 40 years old, so they chose to install their mirrors in cool, upscale restaurant-lounges.
"We're very picky about demographics," says Mr. Atkins, whose previous career was in sales management for a dental company and a telecommunications company. "Whereas our competition is looking at the big restaurant chains, we're going after a more high-end clientele."
This isn't the only thing that sets AddMirror apart from other companies that offer mirror or washroom advertising, he adds. Some of the competition's products require installing a television behind glass while others use technology that suck a lot of electricity, Mr. Atkins says.
"A key differentiator for us is our product is very low power, with a unit consuming only about six watts of power [per hour]when someone is in the washroom and one watt when nobody is in the washroom," he says.
Each restaurant in the AddMirror network typically has two mirrors installed - one in the women's washroom and another in the men's. This allows advertisers to create gender-specific messages, Mr. Atkins says.
Research in Motion ran two versions of a recent BlackBerry ad - one featuring two women talking and another featuring two men. "Talk about really targeted advertising," Mr. Atkins says.
AddMirror now has 170 mirrors in restaurants in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. The restaurants get paid a guaranteed amount every quarter, regardless of how often their mirrors get booked for ads.
AddMirror's list of clients has grown significantly over the last two years and includes big names such as Calvin Klein, RIM, Bell Canada, Telus and Braun.
Revenue has grown as well, Mr. Atkins says, with last year's fourth-quarter earnings totalling about 10 times the revenue from the same period in 2009.
But AddMirror remains a lean operation. It has no employees; instead, Mr. Atkins and Mr. Petrusich struck up an agreement to have Toronto-based creative agency Mediacity handle sales.
"In the course of the last two years I've drilled holes, installed stuff, programmed stuff - whatever is required to grow the business," Mr. Atkins says. "My partner and I finance ourselves, through revenue and cash flow.
"I've seen other people who got lots of money from third parties and they do things differently, like get big offices."
Mr. Atkins says he and Mr. Petrusich are looking to expand their network of mirrors by at least 50 per cent. The demand for AddMirror space has grown so much and so quickly that the company has had to turn business away.
"Advertisers have really taken to our product, and so have the restaurants," Mr. Atkins says. "We're getting referrals now from restaurant owners who are so happy with us that they're telling other owners, 'You have to call so and so at AddMirror and mention my name.'"