12.19.2007

advertising is in our brains. literally.

You know how I feel about advertising, about the encroachment of advertising into our landscape and our lives.

I feel the suffocating presence of too much advertising all around, crowding me until my skin crawls. I hear its noise in my brain, drowning out my own thoughts.

And now that overused metaphor becomes made literal.
New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last week when she heard a woman's voice right in her ear asking, "Who's there? Who's there?" She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings. Then the voice said, "It's not your imagination."

Indeed it isn't. It's an ad for "Paranormal State," a ghost-themed series premiering on A&E this week. The billboard uses technology manufactured by Holosonic that transmits an "audio spotlight" from a rooftop speaker so that the sound is contained within your cranium. The technology, ideal for museums and libraries or environments that require a quiet atmosphere for isolated audio slideshows, has rarely been used on such a scale before. For random passersby and residents who have to walk unwittingly through the area where the voice will penetrate their inner peace, it's another story.

Ms. Wilson, a New York-based stylist, said she expected the voice inside her head to be some type of creative project but could see how others might perceive it differently, particularly on a late-night stroll home. "I might be a little freaked out, and I wouldn't necessarily think it's coming from that billboard," she said.

. . .

Mr. Pompei said the company also has tested retail deployments in grocery stores with Procter & Gamble and Kraft for customized audio messaging. So a customer, for example, looking to buy laundry detergent could suddenly hear the sound of gurgling water and thus feel compelled to buy Tide as a result of the sonic experience.

Mr. Pompei contends that the technology will take time for consumers to get used to, much like the lights on digital signage and illuminated billboards did when they were first used. The website Gawker posted an item about the billboard last week with the headline "Schizophrenia is the new ad gimmick," and asked "How soon will it be until in addition to the do-not-call list, we'll have a 'do not beam commercial messages into my head' list?"

"There's going to be a certain population sensitive to it. But once people see what it does and hear for themselves, they'll see it's effective for getting attention," Mr. Pompei said.

Yes, Mr. Pompei, there is a "certain population" who believe that their brains should not be used as a friggin billboard to sell some company's commercial crap! A "certain population" who draws a line around themselves and says to the marketers and positioners and branders of the world: keep the hell out! As a member of this certain population, I can tell you, Mr. Pompei, that I expend a lot of time and energy avoiding the work of people like you, and this technology is an intrusive end-run around all my efforts.

It's bad enough we can scarcely find a space in our modern world that doesn't contain advertising, that we can barely enjoy a moment of art or culture free of commercial clutter. This company is injecting advertising directly into our brain, and we'll get used to it, because we always do.

Is there anything we can do about this? Commercial Alert has some ideas.

Thanks to my researcher-in-chief.

5 comments:

M@ said...

The people who had been sitting a moment before, tapping their feet to the rhythm of Denham’s Dentifrice, Denham’s Dandy Dental Detergent, Denham’s Dentifrice Dentifrice Dentifrice, one two, one two three, one two, one two three.

One of the most haunting sequences in Fahrenheit 451 is this "Denham's Dentifrice" subway car sequence. And the really chilling thing is that Bradbury's been so far surpassed by our society. We don't need to burn books; they're just tossed by the wayside.

But at least Bradbury throws us a lifeline, grim though it may be:

"Denham's Dentifrice; they toil not, neither do they spin," said Montag, eyes shut. "Where do we go from here? Would books help us?"

"Only if the third necessary thing could be given us. Number one, as I said: quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two, and I hardly think a very old man and a fireman turned sour could do much this late in the game."

L-girl said...

Note to self: re-read Farenheit 451.

M@ said...

Yeah... I realise now that I don't actually own a copy. Time to get to a used bookstore...

deang said...

Remember the public outcry in the 70s when some movies or movie theatres were discovered to be inserting split-second flash images of soft drinks, popcorn, and candy in an attempt to make viewers subliminally crave the crap sold at the snack counter? How far we've come. These days, I imagine there are millions of people who would feel truly frightened not to be surrounded by advertising, and who probably can't wait to experience inescapable advertising messages being beamed directly into their heads.

Years ago, I attended a screening of a documentary about the impact of corporate globalization on Jamaica ("Life and Debt") and in the film a historian outlined what former slaveholders feared would happen after Jamaica's slaves were freed: that they would go off and establish their own self-sufficient communities without relying on white businessmen for services and thus wouldn't contribute to a capitalist profit system.

The idea that people might be able to live without thought of money and profit apparently disturbs some people, including some of the audience at the screening.

After the film was over, questions/comments from the mostly college-age audience were opened. These were nominally progressive, even socialist people. The first comment was something like, "What that historian said can't be true! It sounds ridiculous, because there's always been advertising!" Eighteen-year-old heads nodded in agreement all around.

I've heard other people say, "There's always been advertising," too, including adults. Of course, sometimes they're expanding the meaning of the word to mean persuasive rhetoric in general, but sometimes I think they really believe all cultures at all times have been filled with propaganda designed to coerce people into buying things. Many people can't imagine, and refuse to believe that there ever was a world without advertising and commercial exploitation.

L-girl said...

Dean, thank you, as always, for your insight.

Advertising is not new, and not peculiar to the 21st or 20th Century. But "always"? Always is a big word.

For me, there's some type of limit or threshold. If we could turn back the media and advertising clock to, say, 1920s levels, I might not feel so oppressed by ads. In the 20s I'd feel oppressed by a lot of things! But I mean just this one aspect of culture.

These days, the levels of advertising I grew up with in the 1960s and 70s seems almost innocent in retrospect. Yet I remember my parents admonishing us: "Don't sing commercials!" We would walk around singing jingles, so they must have really gotten in our heads.

Many people look at those ads with quaint nostalgia. As if "Don't squeeze the Charmin" is a classic song or game we used to play.