The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'advertising'
Last week was the annual ritual the year's iPhone launch. It followed the usual routine: new models (with larger screens and a new iOS version), new technologies (Apple Pay, a contactless payment system) and a preannouncement of an as-yet unready product (the Apple Watch, which, to all appearances, doesn't quite work yet, hence the carefully managed demo). And then, another surprise: Bono, that Tony Blair of adult-oriented rock took to the stage, looking particularly greasy and ratlike in his trademark rock'n'roll sunglasses, and, through a scripted “spontaneous” exchange with Apple CEO Tim Cook, announced that his band U2 have recorded a new album, and that Apple have bought each and every one of their users a copy; it would be showing up in their record collections whether they wanted it or not. And, soon enough, it did. Those whose phones were set to automatically synchronise with iTunes Match found the new U2 album waiting on their phones.
Of course, not everyone was happy with having a record shoved into their record collections; even without it being by a band with such a sketchy reputation (musically and otherwise) as U2. The similarity between Bono's rationale—that those finding the music on their computer may listen to it and may like it, and if they don't like it, they can delete it—and the rationalisations of old-fashioned email spammers, was pointed out. Though, actually, you couldn't even delete it; you could remove it from your computer, and meticulously scrub it from all your Apple devices, but it would always be waiting for you in your list of downloadable purchases on the iTunes Store, like an unflushable jobbie, taunting you with its noisome presence every time you lifted the lid. The most you could do with it was “hide” it, as you would a mildly embarrassing drunken binge-purchase; but you and Apple would know it was always there, mocking you.
This was not so much the “turd-in-a-can” business model of lowest-common-denominator consumer capitalism as the “unflushable turd” business model; or “now you have our album in your music collection; deal with it”. A bit like the Los Angeles band who blocked a freeway with a truck and treated the trapped motorists to a live gig from a stage on the back, only scaled up to the size of Bono's messianic ego and international-level schmoozing abilities. When you're Bono, it seems, you can push your music to millions of people. As for Apple, could this mean that their hubris about knowing their customers' needs better than they know themselves has extended from which controls a user needs in an app to what sort of music the user likes, or ought to like?
After considerable kvetching and sarcasm on social media and the web (and undoubtedly a number of complaints to iTunes Support), Apple relented, and created a world first: a dedicated web link for removing U2's Songs Of Innocence from one's iTunes collection; a privilege (if one can call it that) that no other musical act has merited, or is likely to merit any time soon, with the levels of hubris, influence and public antipathy required to pull off such a feat.
Apple surely have statistics about how many people have availed themselves of this link, and expunged the most recent U2 album from their record collections. It's unlikely that they will publish them. It would be nice if this whole episode had been a lesson in humility for Bono and his people, but, somehow, I suspect that's too much to hope for.
There is, however, some hope from this affair; it seems that, after all, enough people to be counted and listened to still consider their music collections—the recordings they have chosen and curated themselves—to be a personal artefact, rather than just another advertising billboard. Sure, Facebook may abridge our friends' party photos and emotional dramas and squeeze in ads pushing weight-loss plans and financial services in the spaces freed up, Twitter may season our (now similarly algorithmically winnowed down) feeds with “sponsored tweets”, Shazam may turn our phones into micro-billboards for the new Justin Bieber record when we hold them up to check what the bangin' track the DJ is playing is, and Spotify may bombard us with gratingly obnoxious ads until we relent and become paying customers, but both our record collections and our not-inexpensive, non-ad-subsidised, devices are off limits; and woe betide anyone who messes with them.
Veteran video-game developer Jeff Minter took a break from being odd about ungulates to write up a tour of family computer ads of the early 1980s; you know, the ones with families standing around an Apple II or TI994/A, sharing a moment doing the household accounts on a TV screen, or just transfixed in awe at THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE, IN OUR LIVING ROOM TODAY:
Back at the start of the 80s cocaine use was particularly rampant, as evidenced by this buzzing Atari family. The three adult members are plainly off their tits. Mom is clenching like crazy. Older Daughter has a grin that reminds me of Aphex Twin, and Dad is on the verge of drooling while his eyebrows attempt to crawl off his face. All he can do is gesture limply with his right hand, presumably to the mirror just out of shot on top of the TV, indicating that someone should get busy and chop out some more lines with the platinum American Express card.
Here the McPervert family are shown reacting upon the occasion of their first exposure to Goatse.
What you can’t see is that the dog is in this family grouping too. He’s just stuck his nose right up Mom’s skirt, and boy is his nose cold.
A Berlin-based advertising agency has created some clever ads for the International Society for Human Rights' press freedom campaign:
Recently, US youth-oriented clothing chain The Gap replaced its logo with a new one, one consisting of nothing more than the word "Gap", in Helvetica, with a blue rectangle in one corner, to much opprobrium from the design community:
Could this be a sign of the end of Helvetica's reign as the epitome of High Modernist cool, and a harbinger of its second decline? The sans serif has been enjoying a revival as the universal (well, almost universal) signifier of timelessness yet clean modernity for a while now; no longer trashily ubiquitous (no, that'd be Arial), the former "official typeface of the Vietnam War" became recognised as a design classic, a force of nature; merely setting something in Helvetica (or, even better, Helvetica Bold), is a statement of understated confidence (see, for example, American Apparel's ads, where it offsets the lo-fi porno aesthetic). A hagiographic documentary, released in the year of its 50th anniversary, didn't hurt either, and nor did Apple going with it as the standard system font of the iPhone, instantly making other mobile platforms look cheap and tacky. (Before this, Apple commissioned custom system fonts for their desktop operating systems; remember, for example, MacOS's "Chicago".) Such were the typographically conservative rules of the age of retro-modernism Helvetica presided over, when heritage was king.
Now, after brand upon brand adopted the plain-black-Helvetica-on-white look, the trend seems to have peaked, and (as Gap has shown us), the emperor has no clothes. Perhaps we'll now see an anti-Helvetica backlash, with some Helvetica users switching to other, arguably better grotesks, such as Akzidenz, Univers and, yes, Aktiv Grotesk and others jumping further afield and rebranding themselves with other typefaces (Futura, as seen in Wes Anderson film titles, could be one to watch, as could Eurostile if one doesn't mind a bit of retro boxiness; Gill Sans, whilst overexposed in Britain, may have legs elsewhere, and perhaps FF Meta is old enough to be not so much trendy as mature), or even an explosion of daring experimentation and a move away from the classics and towards all-new typefaces.
Anyone want to bet on what the iPhone 5's system font will be? I imagine that with this and Windows Phone 7 one-upping the mid-20th-century public-signage aesthetic, the time for a break with Helvetica could be right.
A chap in Russia has posted scans from a book of ads from the British motor company Rootes, circa 1961. The ads are all beautifully illustrated, looking somewhere between the illustrations in vintage children's books and a subtly Anglicised take on the 1950s American Dream (the cars gleam and present seductive images of freedom and leisure, though the tailfins have a subtle, very British, understatement about them).
This was once the heady height of modernity. Air travel was still expensive, and the trains still ran on coal, but Britain had a shiny new motorway system, and for the cost of a gleaming car, it was yours to explore. Oil was cheap, and as far as anyone could tell, would remain cheap forever.
Adding even more texture to it, a number of the ads are in Russian. The book was produced for an exposition in Moscow; perhaps, at the height of the brief thaw of the Khrushchev administration, the executives of Rootes imagined that Russians may soon be enjoying a version of the British take on the American Dream?
(via Boing Boing)
Some time ago, I read about luxury goods companies sending free samples to celebrities. More specifically, sending free samples of their rivals' products to trashy celebrities, partly to obviate the need for them to buy their product and also to slime their rivals' brand image.
Today, I see the following text ad at the top of my Gmail:
I wonder whether this could be Google doing the same sort of thing to Microsoft's search engine.
For what it's worth, I know only enough about who Cheryl Cole is to have no desire to watch videos of her. I imagine it is not inconceivable that Google, with their vast databases of users' browsing histories, mail keywords and interests, would be able to infer this from my history. And if they have a model which can predict whether the probabilities of a user liking or disliking X (where X is a product, band, celebrity, political party or other unit of discourse) are increased or decreased by their history of choices, perhaps they can run this model in reverse, turning it into a discommendation engine of sorts. In other words, given a user's history, perhaps Google can predict exactly what sorts of things would be likely to put them off. Which, of course, would be useful for sliming rivals' brands in carefully placed ads.
Of course, something like that would stretch "don't be evil" to breaking point (it's the kind of douchey move you'd expect from viral Facebook game vendors or someone, not Google), and I suspect that Google aren't as resigned to becoming the next Evil Empire in the public's eye to openly start doing this sort of thing. But still, it's a theoretical possibility. The other, perhaps more economical, explanation is, of course, that this is just an authentic example of hamfistedly untargeted marketing from Microsoft (find something a lot of people are into, like celebrity gossip, and carpet-bomb everyone with the same ads).
A Canadian paper company has launched a campaign to get people to print more:
“There is an appropriate use for paper. You should feel comfortable to use it appropriately and you shouldn’t be feeling there is some environmental negative when you use it,” Mr. Williams said at a news conference Monday. “People do not have to feel guilty about using paper to print.”
“Young people really are not printers. When was the last time your children demanded a printer? They want the electronic device,” Mr. Williams said after making a luncheon presentation to the Canadian Club.To get the youngsters hooked, the campaign will use Facebook and YouTube.
The social network site Facebook is supported by advertising. Being a social network site, it has the advantage of being able to serve (anonymously) targeted ads to its users, who volunteer demographic information about themselves in using the site; advertisers can target ads to users whose profiles or recent activities match certain criteria. Unfortunately, when handled clumsily, the effect can be disconcerting or creepy:
One campaign that flooded the site in recent weeks, before Facebook cracked down on it, tries to take advantage of consumer interest in Apple’s iPad. “Are you a fan of Eddie Izzard? We need 100 music and movie lovers to test and KEEP the new Apple iPad,” one version of the ad says. Louis Allred Jr., 29, a Facebook user in Los Angeles who saw the ad, said he figured it was shown to him because he or a friend had expressed enthusiasm for Mr. Izzard, a British comedian, on their profiles.Off-key and/or sleazy ads on Facebook are nothing new, of course; ads juxtaposing pictures of hot chicks with unrelated, often dubious-looking, offers, for example, have been on the service for years, and presumably have snared a number of not particularly discerning individuals. But now Facebook are allowing advertisers to effectively write templates to be filled in with users' details ("SPECIAL OFFER FOR $gender AGED $(age-1)-$(age+1) WHO LIKE $interest"). Which sounds like a way to game unmerited trust out of punters, but, more often than not, falls into an uncanny valley, falling short of being convincing and coming off as unsettling, or worse:
Women who change their status to “engaged” on Facebook to share the news with their friends, for example, report seeing a flood of advertisements for services and products like wedding photographers, skin treatments and weight-loss regimens.And the knowledge that ads are targeted by some data-mining algorithm can, in itself, add a dimension of unease to what might well be coincidences:
Jess Walker, 22, from central Florida, was recently presented an ad for Plan B, the morning-after pill. “What do I have on my Facebook page that would lead them to believe I would need that?” she asked, adding that she did not want her sexual behavior called into question.
This juxtaposition between content and automatically served ads has recently been brought to my attention:
It would appear that the culprit is Google's ad-serving algorithm, which seems to be based on keywords or word frequencies in the content; in this case, I'm guessing that it noticed that the page was about strings, and it had an ad targetted at a number of keywords, including "string". And, hence, we have an illustration of why naïve keyword-based content matching can fail.
I imagine that Google could do better than this. They have (a) a copy of the entire Web, stored and indexed as they see fit, and (b) huge quantities of parallel-processing power to crunch through this and data derived from this. They have already used this to great effect in building statistical models of language, which they use in things like their language tools and the context-sensitive spelling correction in Wave. I imagine, though, that it could be used to implement a machine-learning system, taking content classification beyond word frequencies.
Imagine, for example, if there were a classification engine, trained on millions of web pages (and auxilliary data about them) that, when fed a web page or document, could assign it a score along several axes with some degree of accuracy. Some axes could be the obvious things: a "sex" axis, for example (with thongs falling on one side and C++ classes well on the other) could be used for things like SafeSearch. An "emotional response" axis could be used to classify how likely content is to arouse strong emotions; on one end would be accounts of lurid violence and depravity, and on the other end things like source code and stationery catalogues, with art, celebrity gossip and LiveJournal angst falling in the spaces between. As soon as a page crossed a certain point on the axis, the ad-serving algorithm could stop matching ads by keywords (you don't want ads for airfares next to a piece about an air crash, for example), or even reverse them (so that topical ads aren't shown).
In fact, one need not restrict oneself to pre-imagined axes; it's conceivable that an ad serving company with Google's resources could set up a learning engine, program it to categorise pages according to a dozen arbitrary axes, and see what comes about and what it's useful for, in turn coming up with a model for clustering web content into crisply defined categories that no human would think of. Of course, for all I know, someone at Google (or Microsoft or Facebook) could be doing this right now.
(via David Gerard)
Art installation/commercial of the day: Soundville, in which Juan Cabral (the chap behind the Sony Bravia bouncing ball ad) converts the Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður into a giant sound system, wiring it up with speakers, playing music and sounds through them for three days, and filming the locals' reactions. For this project, Cabral had enlisted the help of several people, including Múm and the team behind Sigur Rós' live concerts. More about it here.
Recently in unintentionally humorous juxtapositions: 23 unfortunately placed web ads:
Imagine, for a moment, that you have published an online multiplayer strategy game. How do you get players to play your game (and, more importantly, spend money on the numerous playability enhancements, from premium-priced instant messages to power-ups) rather than any of the numerous other games out there? Well, you could concentrate on making a particularly playable game, give away accounts and wait for word of mouth to do its work. Or, if you're the publisher of Evony (formerly known as Civony), a game heavily inspired (to phrase it somewhat generously) by Sid Meier's Civilization games only much more heavily monetised, you could bet on the assumption that sex sells and plaster the web with increasingly lascivious ads, in which the traditional cod-Tolkienist clichés gradually give way to gratuitous female nudity, culminating in the apotheosis: a close-up of a lingerie-clad bosom, with nothing about the actual game whatsoever. It's Idiocracy marketing taken a few steps beyond the typical Facebook ads with pictures of hot chicks promoting completely unrelated products, assuming that your target market is comprised entirely of idiots who, when shown pictures of BOOBIES!!!1!, begin drooling like Pavlov's Dog and reflexively get their credit cards out.
And here is a Grauniad piece about Evony. It seems that their dodginess goes well beyond patronisingly pornographic ad campaigns, and extends its slimy tentacles into everything from spamming blog comments to gold-farming and gouging their clientele (the "suckers", as I believe the technical term is) to lifting text and graphics from existing games. These people, it seems, have more contempt for their user base than MySpace.
And as if bad advertising and tenuous intellectual property were not enough, the game is also under fire for its business model – a system that seems intent on getting players to spend as much money as possible. Players are encouraged to buy in-game extras to speed their progress – but the confusing way the game prices its add-ons means that many users may not realise that a simple action, such as sending a message to another player, can cost 15p a time.
It turns out that the site's backers are equally unpopular. Evony is the product of Universal Multiplayer Game Entertainment (UMGE), a developer linked to a Chinese gold-farming operation called WoWMine. That site has also come in for regular criticism, but the real kicker comes with the news that the company's owners are being sued by Microsoft over allegations of click fraud.
Nestlé, the food corporation whose name has been synonymous with unethical marketing of infant formula in the developing world, has been caught engaging in yet more dubious marketing practices abroad, this time when an ad for Maggi noodles, intended for Bangladesh, was mistakenly aired on a UK-based satellite channel, bringing it under the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Authority:
Shown on Nepali TV, the advert suggested that Maggi Noodles helped build strong bones and muscles. A boy playing tug-of-war with his friends ran in to see his mother, who explained to him: "Maggi is the best because it has essential protein and calcium that help to build strong muscles and bones." On-screen graphics depicted a yellow glow over a bicep and a knee, implying that those areas of the body were helped by the product.
In a statement, Nestle said: "We rigorously ensure that all health claims made on Nestle products comply with local legislation. The advert had been approved for broadcast and complied with the necessary legal requirements in Bangladesh, the market the advertisement was intended for. "It was never intended for transmission in the UK."
Atheist and Guardian blogger Ariane Sherine took offense at those ads religious groups have on the sides of buses, and decided to start a campaign to put a similar atheistic ad on buses in London. After some wrangling with advertising companies (who were reluctant), one has agreed to run the ad (which reads "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life"; I think Douglas Adams would have approved, don't you?) if their sponsors can raise £1,100. As such, Sherine is looking for 1,100 atheists, agnostics or fellow travellers to pledge £5 each.
A few weeks ago, officials in Lancaster, California allowed the Honda company to grind grooves into a stretch of road, so that the wheels of cars driving along would play the melody of the William Tell Overture, at least if the cars were similar in dimensions to the Honda Civic, as part of an advertising campaign. Now, faced with complaints from nearby residents, the officials are planning to pave over the musical grooves:
The road is tuned to a car just exactly the length, and equipped with tires the same size, as a Honda Civic, a spokesman for Honda said. But other vehicles are also successful in playing the notes, if a little off-key.
That noise is not exactly music to the ears of persons living in a nearby subdivision, who are telling the Daily News that the notes blend into a cacophony that keeps them awake at night.
"When you hear it late at night, it will wake you up from a sound sleep," said music critic Brian Robin, who lives a half mile away from the project. "It's awakened my wife three or four times a night," he told the newspaper.There's a video of the musical highway here. You can probably imagine how, with several cars traversing it at different speeds, it could sound quite cacophonous.
I wonder how feasible it would be for guerilla art pranksters, MySpace band self-promoters and/or viral marketing scumbags to surreptitiously cut their own grooves into roads without any sort of permission. I imagine a device that lays down grooves whilst driving innocuously along, and doesn't attract the attention of the local road police, would be infeasible.
Charlie Brooker weighs in on the issue of product placement, with a modest proposal of his own:
Let's say you're trying to launch a new soft drink. Traditionally you'd have to spend millions on a commercial, and millions more booking airtime for it. Screw that. Here's what you do: put up one billboard. Just one. Somewhere on a route near Buckingham Palace or Downing Street. Point a camera at it 24/7. Then simply pay a sniper to assassinate someone of global importance when they pass in front of it. Bingo! The clip will run on an endless loop on every news channel in the world, for eternity. Even as viewers gasp in horror watching the victim's head explode like a watermelon, they'll simultaneously be thinking "What's that? New Plum-Flavoured Pepsi? Cool!" each time a chunk of skull flies past your logo.
Meanwhile, the UK's media minister has vowed not to allow product placement in British-produced television programmes, saying that to do so would compromise the high esteem in which British television is held worldwide.
(Is British television still held in the same high esteem it was years ago, though? There is a good deal of unoriginal and generally cheap programming being made in Britain these days. Meanwhile, American television seems to have transcended its reputation for lowest-common-denominator programming, with series winning acclaim.)
Something which amuses me is the ads on Facebook, and the juxtapositions of irrelevant images (typically of attractive-looking young women, at times in provocative poses) next to pitches for products of various dubiosity, ranging from fairly well-known credit-rating agencies to get-rich-quick schemes and online gambling sites, but having as a common feature an inherent lack of sex appeal. The rationale, I'm guessing, is pure postmodern cynicism: somewhere, some executive decided that the model consumer they're pitching at is like one of the slack-jawed halfwits from Idiocracy ("Gee, I don't know the first thing about work-from-home schemes and stuff... but I sure like hot chicks!"), and decided to market at this notional demographic. Not aiming merely for the dullards, but also for those consumers, brought up on trashy television and celebrity gossip, who are well versed in the practice of simulating being simpletons in order to be entertained, as the Judd Apatows and Seann William Scotts of this world (and their bank managers) know. Call it cognitive slumming, if you will.
Sometimes, though, the juxtaposition between the content (or, rather, its tone) and the Irrelevant Hot Chick Picture becomes quite jarring. Case in point:
The culture jammer calling himself The Decapitator has released a video of his latest stunt—hijacking a consignment of copies of free commuter tabloid TheLondonPaper, modifying them by gruesomely beheading David Beckham in a mobile phone ad, and then droplifting the doctored copies near Old Street, all in the space of 3 hours.
(via Wired News)
Lambasted for climate change and scorned by the green set, car companies are tailoring their marketing to the asshole demographic:
First to India, where an advert for the Ford Endeavour finds this 4x4 behemoth leaving slushy tracks on a melting polar landscape. Behind the two-tonne, seven-seater vehicle, which does just 7.5 km per litre in city driving conditions (compared to 22kmpl for India's new "People's Car", the Tata Nano), stand two rather forlorn-looking polar bears, an animal that has become the symbol of climate change. Could Ford India have chosen a more inappropriate setting to sell its wares? A children's playground, perhaps?
Ford in the UK goes for a much simpler approach with its Fiesta Zetec Climate (why would you ever use the word "climate" to name a car?) ads by accompanying a picture of the car with just a short sentence: "Most people would prefer a hot climate." It wouldn't appear as if Ford's survey of people's climatic preferences extended to those living in already parched regions of the planet now fearing the kinds of sharp temperature rises predicted by climatologists.
The messaging still not blunt enough for you? Try Hyundai's "Greed is Good" adverts then. Reprising the mantra of Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas's odious city-trader character from the film Wall Street, is exactly what the environment needs right now, isn't it? Oh, how we need a return to the devil-may-care, me-want-now consumerism of the 1980s.Aside: when the line "greed is good" was penned for the film Wall Street in 1987, it was obviously an extreme, fringe view, that of a despicable character. Is this the case now, in the age of the Blatcherite "shareholder democracy" and "enterprise culture", where we are all encouraged to be marketing characters, constantly engaged in commerce, leveraging and monetising our assets much as sharks must constantly keep moving?
Meanwhile, someone at EDF's ad agency doesn't seem to have read Jared Diamond's Collapse:
The French energy giant EDF appears not to have done its homework before deciding to use the statues of Easter Island to reinforce its message that, "We develop tomorrow's energies for future generations." EDF is one of the world's largest suppliers of nuclear energy, an irony that ClimateDenial.org is quick to point out: "The Easter Island civilization collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster. What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power".
Some anonymous guerilla artist has been hacking the heads off models in advertising posters in London. Dubbed the "East London Decapitator", he or she creates meticulously photoshopped overlays, with the figures' heads replaced with gory stumps and the surroundings splattered with blood, and pastes them over the advertisements. Nobody — not squeaky-clean Disney stars, not pop singers, not even computer-animated characters — is safe.here. It's pretty entertaining, as long as he/she doesn't escalate into beheading actual live models or something.
(via Wired News)
It looks like Facebook (the social network site which promoted itself on being less jarringly obnoxious than MySpace) may soon explore new frontiers of annoyingness:
"Evil is deeply embedded in Facebook's corporate DNA," said Umair Haque, a strategy consultant who covers digital media and innovation on his blog, Bubblegeneration.com.
As Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, wrote in his blog: "It's a nifty system: First you get your users to entrust their personal data to you, and then you not only sell that data to advertisers but you get the users to be the vector for the ads. And what do the users get in return? An animated Sprite Sips character to interact with."
In describing Facebook's new advertising system at a US conference this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made it clear there would be no avoiding the onslaught of advertisements and viral marketing on Facebook. "There is no opting out of advertising," he said.I don't know about you, but I don't want little animated M&Ms characters doing skateboard stunts in the corner of my personal messages or sentences announcing the latest iPod or trainer auto-edited into comments I make on people's walls. If Facebook gets annoying, I'll stop using it, and I won't be the only one.
Meanwhile, Google has filed a patent for using online games to build up psychological profiles of users, and using these for targetting ads:
The company thinks it can glean information about an individual's preferences and personality type by tracking their online behaviour, which could then be sold to advertisers. Details such as whether a person is more likely to be aggressive, hostile or dishonest could be obtained and stored for future use, it says.
The patent says: "User dialogue (eg from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterise the user (eg literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc). Also, user play may be used to characterise the user (eg cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc)."
Players who spend a lot of time exploring "may be interested in vacations, so the system may show ads for vacations". And those who spend more time talking to other characters will see adverts for mobile phones.
Not all the inferences made by monitoring user activity rely on subtle psychological clues, however. "In a car racing game, after a user crashes his Honda Civic, an announcer could be used to advertise by saying 'if he had a Hummer, he would have gotten the better of that altercation', etc," the patent says. And: "If the user has been playing for over two hours continuously, the system may display ads for Pizza Hut, Coke, coffee."And on a related note, Bruce Schneier on how today's likely surveillance dystopias differ from Orwell's totalitarian vision:
Data collection in 1984 was deliberate; today's is inadvertent. In the information society, we generate data naturally. In Orwell's world, people were naturally anonymous; today, we leave digital footprints everywhere.
1984's Big Brother was run by the state; today's Big Brother is market driven. Data brokers like ChoicePoint and credit bureaus like Experian aren't trying to build a police state; they're just trying to turn a profit. Of course these companies will take advantage of a national ID; they'd be stupid not to. And the correlations, data mining and precise categorizing they can do is why the U.S. government buys commercial data from them.
And finally, the police state of 1984 was deliberately constructed, while today's is naturally emergent. There's no reason to postulate a malicious police force and a government trying to subvert our freedoms. Computerized processes naturally throw off personalized data; companies save it for marketing purposes, and even the most well-intentioned law enforcement agency will make use of it.
In Australia, the Pom Anti-Defamation League has succeeded in getting a beer advertising campaign pulled that negatively stereotyped the English. The campaign in question, for Toohey's, played on negative stereotypes of the English ("Poms") as inveterate complainers with a phobia of cold beer, and apparently did so a bit too mean-spiritedly:
The radio advertisement for Tooheys brewery and its New Supercold beer employed a group of Englishmen to sing the tune of Land of Hope and Glory using various synonyms for whinge, including whine, moan, slag and complain.
His group also contested another version of the advert that had been made for television audiences. It featured footage of an overweight, pale man, wearing a Union Jack T-shirt, cringing in fear at the offer of a cold beer. The advert was withdrawn before the action against it could proceed.The Tooheys advertising campaign was also connected to these advertisements on Sydney buses.
This year's crop of pre-Christmas advertising in London includes campaigns from various charities, suggesting that people buy, as gifts for their loved ones, items of aid for people in developing countries. Oxfam's version of this campaign, titled "Famously Funusual Gifts", seemed particularly strained:
Other than "funusual" being a somewhat cringeworthy neologism, it is also inaccurate. One can say a lot of good things about giving someone a certificate that their gift was a goat for an African village or a combination children's playground and water pump: it can be worthy, enlightened, socially aware, and, yes, unusual. However, to say it is "fun" is somewhat of a stretch. One might get a lot of satisfaction, a feeling of wellbeing or worthiness, or (more uncharitably) a smug sense of moral and cultural superiority over the Sun-reading philistines who merely got a new plasma-screen TV for Christmas; however, none of these emotions are usually classified as "fun". Even if the certificate one gets in lieu of a present is set in Comic Sans and festooned with quirky cartoons.
This use of "fun" sounds like a potential neologism in the making; perhaps we will see the meaning of "fun" change to refer to something that's not particularly enjoyable though one is obliged, by social pressure, to grin and bear it and pretend that it is in order to keep up appearances of worthiness or superiority. ("This village toilet is the best gift ever; so much better than a Nintendo Wii.") Eventually, the implicit sarcasm will seep into the word "fun", and its original meaning will go the way of other words like "gay" and "special": "That sounds totally fun. Let's go do something else instead."
Could this be a new record for concentrated stupidity on an advertising poster?
- Hollywood is staffed by people who don't know what a cow actually is, or
- they're assuming that most of the kids whom they market this steaming pile of mass entertainment at are clueless about where their hamburgers come from and those who aren't are sufficiently conditioned by condescendingly stupid television and movies to switch off the parts of their brains that notice that there's something wrong and just go with the flow, or perhaps
- in this post-industrial, post-post-agricultural society, the concept of barnyard animals has receded from plausible reality into the realm of mythology, where taking liberties (such as anthropomorphising cows as male) is acceptable.
The Brazilian city of Sao Paolo may soon completely ban advertising billboards, which the city's mayor calls "visual pollution".
A new advertising agency in the Netherlands has started offering advertising on zoo animals and hookers' thighs. The agency instoresnow.nl also offers advertising iin religious establishments and huge floating billboards off popular beaches. Unfortunately for those willing to buy, the agency doesn't actually exist, but is merely a satirical project by a design student, Raoul Balai:
"I was getting sick and tired of advertising everywhere," Balai told reporters. "But I don't want to preach, and I thought satire would work better."
Prospective customers phoning his fake agency are kept on hold and bombarded with sales pitches until they give up.Not all are amused, though; an Amsterdam zoo has threatened Balai with a defamation suit after Balai's site showed fish at the zoo inscribed with the brand name of a frozen fish company.
Global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi have unveiled the latest breakthrough in making advertising ever more deceptive, intrusive and intelligence-insulting: the stick-on door peephole diorama:
The original intended use is for getting people who don't think critically to buy more crap, though given Gibson's Law ("the street finds its own uses for things"), it could be only a matter of time before muggers/home-invaders start using the technology.
In Berlin, a city known for its ultra-cool club scene, a community health service has launched drug awareness ads modelled on the iPod ads.
The next thing after digital rights management (DRM) may be attention rights management (ARM), which ensures that advertisers get the eyeballs they have paid good money for. Already, the signs are there: Philips have filed for a patent on a broadcast flag to prevent viewers from skipping ads. And don't try channel-surfing either, as that's blocked as well:
Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.
The patent also suggests that the system could offer viewers the chance to pay a fee interactively to go back to skipping adverts.Of course, you can still get up and go to the kitchen to grab a snack. Perhaps the next generation will have set-top boxes capable of counting viewers with an infrared camera, and getting petulant (or charging an "ad-skipping fee" to the subscriber's account) if people leave during the ads?
Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers" who could initially think their equipment has gone wrong.They don't say...
The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against an ad for childrens' theatre tickets which mentioned convicted paedophile and glam rocker Gary Glitter.
Showing two young boys, it stated: "Like Gary Glitter in a sweet shop, you too can have your pick of kiddy treats in London's theatre world".
A spokesman for the website said: "We aim to create advertising which makes us stand out. However, on this occasion we realise that there has been an error in our judgment."
The Mind Hacks blog has a report of an interesting study on subliminal influence:
You go to the supermarket and stop by some shelves offering French and German wine. You buy a bottle of French wine. After going through the checkout you are asked what made you choose that bottle of wine. You say something like "It was the right price", or "I liked the label". Did you notice the French music playing as you took it off the shelf? You probably did. Did it affect your choice of wine? No, you say, it didn't.
That's funny because on the days we play French music nearly 80% of people buying wine from those shelves choose French wine, and on the days we play German music the opposite happensThe study in question used stereotypical examples of national music (French accordion music and German "oom-pah" band music), yielding the results mentioned, and is effective primarily due to its subtlety. It would not be enough to make someone not intending to buy wine buy some, but is enough to influence the choice of wine.
What would be the effect, I wonder, of having someone stand by the shelves saying to the customers as they passed "Why don't you buy a French wine today"? My hunch is that you'd make people think about their decision a lot more - just by trying to persuade them you'd turn the decision from a low involvement one into a high involvement one. People would start to discount your suggestion. But the suggestion made by the music doesn't trigger any kind of monitoring. Instead, the authors of this study believe, it triggers memories associated with the music - preferences and frames of reference. Simply put, hearing the French music activates  ideas of 'Frenchness' - maybe making customers remember how much they like French wine, or how much they enjoyed their last trip to France. For a decision which people aren't very involved with, with low costs either way (both the French and German wines are pretty similar, remember, except for their nationality) this is enough to swing the choice.
Ironic juxtaposition of the day:
On one side of a bus shelter in west London, the following iPod ad:
Faced with a ban on tobacco advertising, cigarette companies are turning to increasingly subtle forms of marketing, such as redesigning bar decor to subliminally suggest their brand identities:
These 'installations', as they were called, created lounge areas by placing comfortable red sofas in front of video screens showing scenes redolent of Wild West 'Marlboro country' to convey the essence of the cigarette brand while circumnavigating sponsorship bans.
'All that former advertising money has to go somewhere,' said one industry insider. 'The tobacco firms are looking to create extensive "design languages" in bars and clubs and other venues through the use of particular types of furniture or material which will make people think of their brands.'
An artist in New York has pasted 50,000 blank speech bubble stickers to ads and posters, waited for the public to fill them in, and then photographed the results. The results included political commentary, existential angst, ribald humour, self-promotion and personal messages.
A writer has worked out the 25 unwritten rules of advertising:
1. Men are obsessed with sex but will forego sex in order to watch football or drink beer.
2. Women are locked in a constant battle with their weight/body shape/hairstyle.
13. Both men and women find driving deeply pleasurable, never boring or stressful.
14. Men are inherently lazy/slobbish; women are the reverse.
15. Chocolate, however, will cause women to immediately fall into the languor of the opium eater.
19. Professional people have strangely trivial preoccupations, e.g. a female barrister who is morbidly obsessed with finding a healthy snack bar.
23. Women never merely hop in and out of the shower, instead preferring to act out some sort of soapy Dance of the Seven Veils.
A Cornell University study has demonstrated that men who feel their masculinity threatened overcompensate by adopting hypermasculine stances such as homophobia, support for the Iraq war, and a desire to buy a SUV:
Willer administered a gender identity survey to a sample of male and female Cornell undergraduates in the fall of 2004. Participants were randomly assigned to receive feedback that their responses indicated either a masculine or a feminine identity. While women's responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback they received, men's reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback," Willer said.
He questioned subjects about their political attitudes, including how they felt about a same-sex marriage ban and their support for President Bush's handling of the Iraq War. "I created composites from subjects' answers to these and other questions," he said. "I also gave subjects a car-buying vignette, presented as part of a study of purchasing a new car."With this in mind, perhaps SUV manufacturers will start running ads, with no brand names on them, impugning their audience's masculinity. I can see them now: "Hey you," a crew-cut, neckless drill-sergeant type shouts from the TV, "you call yourself a man? You ain't a man, you're a big girl's blouse!" Two ads later, a spot for the Hummer or the latest ultra-macho urban assault vehicle appears. Within the next week, sales go through the roof as office drones compensate for their perceived emasculation.
Meanwhile the researchers in question next intend to measure respondents' testosterone levels and also test their attitudes to violence against women.
Prediction: the next thing after Digital Rights Management will be Attention Rights Management.
Advertising is increasingly everywhere; the number of surfaces without advertising is diminishing. In the U.S., apparently petrol pumps have video screens which show ads now. They are even experimenting with advertisements printed on potato chips. And it is to be expected; any corporation that does not seek to extract the maximum value from its assets (including advertising opportunities) can expect to face lawsuits for negligence or mismanagement from shareholders. This means that, even things which are nominally paid for by a consumer (such as films, video games and, yes, potato chips) are being peppered with ads and product placement, because otherwise that would be an economic opportunity wasted, a big no-no under the dominant Reaganite/Thatcherite ideology of our time.
The next step will be for lawmakers to recognise that there is an implicit contractual obligation by consumers to view and pay attention to advertisements attached to any advertisement-supported service they receive, and to enshrine this in law and international treaties. After all, the business models of ad-supported content are dependent on the implicit agreement of the consumer to pay attention to the advertisements; if consumers were to systematically shirk this obligation, the industry would collapse. In other words, ad evasion is equivalent to intellectual property piracy (which is equivalent to currency counterfeiting, which is equivalent to economic terrorism, but I digress).
At first, this will be used to ban, DMCA-fashion, ad-blocking software and rogue ad-skipping video players. Then it will become more subtle; browser windows will go dark if the ad panes are covered by another window, for example. The technology of denying benefit to ad-dodgers will attract as much venture capital, startups, patents and snake-oil merchants as the quest for the perfect uncopyable CD has. Ultimately, computers and TVs (which, by then, will have converged, possibly on a centralised broadcast model) will have gaze-tracking cameras as standard, and Microsoft Windows 2012 or whatever will have a gaze-tracking API specificially designed to be useful for ad attention enforcement.
I call bullshit on... the story about the New Zealand government fining a restaurant for not updating its website. Which all sounds like interventionism gone mad, except when you read the story and discover that the web site in question contained an outdated, inaccurate price list, and they got done for false advertising.
Since it happened, a big fuss has erupted on the internet, with mostly anti-interventionist libertarian types going on about the Big Brother socialist nanny-state poking its nose into what people do with their websites. Which sounds to me like the publicity that gets raised around ridiculous lawsuits (i.e., urban legends about toaster manufacturers being sued for millions of dollars for not having warning labels telling people not to use their toasters in the bath and such), much of which, I heard, is planted by lobby groups wanting corporate product-liability laws to be relaxed to make it harder for consumers to sue.
Similarly, here, I smell astroturf.
The next casualty in the list of disappearing ad-free surfaces: potato crisps. (via bOING bOING)
Climate-change disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, lauded by environmentally-conscious types across the US, has yet to be released here in Australia, but Ford are already running a Day After Tomorrow-inspired ad campaign to sell SUVs:
The message of the billboard seems to be that, when the Greenhouse Apocalypse comes and the cities are covered with snow, you can hop in your Ford Territory and go skiing.
Make a new friend. Starbucks Coffee. (via bOING bOING)
Advertisers have a new weapon in their arsenal to make you buy and think it was your idea: hypersonic advertising, which beams almost-inperceptible sound directly at the listener:
The first Soda machine equipt with hypersonic sound was in 1996 in Liverpool. Upon passing the machine, faint sounds (hardly even perceptible via audio) of soda being poured, words saying, "You are thirsty", and sounds of people trying to salvate their dry mouths were administered. This would send the "customer" into a psychological frenzy, consumed by a compulsory "need" to be hydrated.
Apparently hypersonic advertising works so well that even the sharpest observers have a hard time determining whether their senses are being affected, and thus telling whether the impulse to buy was externally triggered. And it's completely legal (outside of the private home).
Ways to avoid being manipulated.
(1) Whenever you're shopping, avoid all impulse
(2) always prepare a shopping list before you leave the house
(3) wear headphones playing consistent, thorough music (not love songs or really slow songs)
(4) Don't shop at all
(via the LJ Adbusters group)
The radio in the office next door is tuned to a commercial radio station. Despite my well-stocked Archos Jukebox and set of PC speakers, I cannot escape this. Part of this is bad music, middle-aged rockers howling out bland MOR ballads, like some meaningless ritualisation of what was once a mating call. But most of it is ads. Annoying, intelligence-insulting, in-your-face ads. They tend to fall into three categories:
- The dialogue between two characters, acting out a drama. One character has some problem, and the other knows the solution, which involves the advertiser's product. The main character development involves the other character becoming enlightened as to the beneficial properties of the product, and the advantages of buying from the advertiser. The voices are invariably exaggerated, with all the realism of a Punch and Judy show, but realism isn't the goal here.
- A bloke shouting out a monologue about the product, hitting you, the listener, with reasons why you should "CALL NOW". You can tell he's excited about the product by the way he raises his voice.
- The female equivalent of b): some saccharine-voiced woman, speaking through a smile as wide as her face and as natural as phenylalanine. "Call us now, on oneeighthundred eighthundred onetwothree", she coos, breathily, as if to seduce your credit card out of your wallet with her siren-song.
One thing one notices about commercial radio is the way all the advertisers (and the announcers) constantly speak with that "I'm Excited! Ask Me Why!" tone of voice; their voices are always raised, sometimes to the point of shouting, and each syllable sounds like the start of a new sentence.
Why anybody would willingly choose to subject themselves to this, I do not know. Though I have some theories; perhaps the constant sugar-rush of excitement in the advertisers' voices is contagious, acting as a subconscious stimulant, helping the average working stiff through their otherwise tedious and/or exhausting day with a plastic smile on their face, and keeping them from realising the all-pervading emptiness of their life and collapsing into black despair? It's just a theory.
As for me? I'll stick to 3RRR, thanks.
The Graun's Simon Hattenstone interviews Banksy:
Banksy's attitude to brands is ambivalent - like Naomi Klein, he opposes corporate branding and has become his own brand in the process. Now, people are selling forged Banksies on the black market or stencil kits so we can produce our own Banksies. Does he mind being ripped off? "No," he says. "The thing is, I was a bootlegger for three years so I don't really have a leg to stand on."
Incidentally, some of the fake Banksies (in particular, the chimp with the sandwich board and the parachuting rat) have ended up on the walls of Fitzroy (look around Brunswick St., between Gertrude and Johnston Sts.) They lack Banksy's signature (though at least the people responsible didn't try to take the credit, regardless of clueless journalists putting photos of them next to features about "the Melbourne underground art scene" or whatever it was).
Over the past couple of years the very brands he despises have approached him to do advertising campaigns for them. Is there work he would turn down on principle? "Yeah, I've turned down four Nike jobs now. Every new campaign they email me to ask me to do something about it. I haven't done any of those jobs. The list of jobs I haven't done now is so much bigger than the list of jobs I have done. It's like a reverse CV, kinda weird. Nike have offered me mad money for doing stuff." What's mad money? "A lot of money!" he says bashfully.
Why did he turn it down? "Because I don't need the money and I don't like children working their fingers to the bone for nothing. I like that Jeremy Hardy line: 'My 11-year-old daughter asked me for a pair of trainers the other day. I said, 'Well, you're 11, make 'em yourself.' I want to avoid that shit if at all possible."
And Banksy is having an exhibition at an undisclosed London warehouse. He won't, of course, be in attendance there (or so he says, anyway), with his art being technically illegal and pseudonymity being vitally important.
The London Underground has banned a poster campaign by an animal-rights charity protesting factory farming of chickens. The poster shows a picture of scantily-clad models and a pictore of battery chickens, with the caption "Thousands of big-breasted birds packed together for your pleasure". According to the Tube, the poster is "likely to offend".
I just got a spam claiming to be from a major Australian advertising agency (Singleton Ogilvy & Mather) on behalf of American Express; it was sent to an email address I hadn't put on anything for some years and had ACN numbers at the bottom and everything. Now it could be some sort of fraud, but if it isn't, it looks like major Australian advertising agencies are now adopting the trade practices of trailer-park chickenboner conmen. Could it be a sign that Australia's economy is going the way of Argentina and other spam-centric econimies?
In any case, I've sent it to SpamCop.
Shopkeepers in Russia have discovered an innovative advertising medium: the sides of stray dogs. They lure the dogs with meat, paint their shop's logo (as well as those of any brands they stock) on their sides and release them; the hapless, half-starved animals then wander around like walking billboards, until they're caught and repainted by a rival shop.
Well, at least it must be less obnoxious than those big black trucks with huge-arse billboards, usually advertising some lifestyle product for unsubtle gimboids, driving around in fleets of three and spewing diesel fumes into the air, as some sort of cocky, defiant fuck-you to all the oxygen-breathing bystanders ("hey, try ignoring this, motherfuckers!"). Are there really large demographic groups who choose to consume a certain brand because the manufacturer cares enough to pay someone to spew carbon monoxide into their air?
An interesting article from 1982 about how the multinational diamond-trading monopoly De Beers manufactured the public desire for diamonds, singlehandedly creating the association between diamonds and romance, and manipulating human courtship rituals to move the right sizes of stones, and create an illusion of security which doesn't actually exist:
DeBeers devised the "eternity ring," made up of as many as twenty-five tiny Soviet diamonds, which could be sold to an entirely new market of older married women. The advertising campaign was based on the theme of recaptured love. Again, sentiments were born out of necessity: older American women received a ring of miniature diamonds because of the needs of a South African corporation to accommodate the Soviet Union.
The moment a significant portion of the public begins selling diamonds from this inventory, the price of diamonds cannot be sustained. For the diamond invention to survive, the public must be inhibited from ever parting with its diamonds. In developing a strategy for De Beers in 1953, N. W. Ayer said: "In our opinion old diamonds are in 'safe hands' only when widely dispersed and held by individuals as cherished possessions valued far above their market price." As far as De Beers and N. W. Ayer were concerned, "safe hands" belonged to those women psychologically conditioned never to sell their diamonds.
(via The Fix)
Coming soon to supermarkets across the US: talking margarine tubs, which wiggle and shout "BUTTER!" at passing shoppers. The tubs will contain motion-detecting voice chips. Could genetically-modified self-advertising broccoli be next? (via bOING bOING)
Could this be the future of advertising? An ad agency in the US has started giving signs to the homeless. The signs are branded with the ad agency's identity and carry slogans such as "At Least I'm Not Spamming Your E-Mail" and "The Market Sucks/ But I Offer a High Return On Your Investments: Good Karma."
Rock over London, rock on Chicago: Frank Chu has become famous for wandering around San Francisco with a sign accusing the President of treason against "12 GALAXIES GUILTIED TO a ZEGNATRONIC ROCKET SOCIETY". But now, in this monetised age, he has succumbed to the lure of capitalism and started selling advertising space on his sign. The back of the sign now advertises a sandwich shop as selling "the galaxy's best sandwich", for which the shop pays him US$25 per week. Perhaps this is the sign of a new trend: commercial psychoceramic marketing. (Via Portal of Evil)
Researchers at Glasgow University have found that advertisements can alter your memory, making you "remember" happy childhood memories, associated with a brand, which never actually happened:
One root beer manufacturer, Stewart's, had discovered that many adults appeared to remember growing up drinking their product from bottles. This was impossible since the company only began full-scale distribution 10 years ago. Before that, Stewart's root beer was available only from soda fountains. However, the bottles were adorned with slogans such as "original", "old fashioned" and "since 1924", which conjured up images of times gone by.
The future of online marketing? As banner-ad revenue declines and online marketers search for new ways to irritate their customers into paying attention, an English magazine firm has come across an attention-grabbing new tactic: Emap send email to customers, accusing them of accessing illegal pornography, telling them that details had been passed on to the police, and offering a link they could click to appeal against the charges. The link went to a web site advertising the MaxPower car show, orgainsed by Emap. What next? "I've been screwing your wife. Click here to see my AIDS test results.", perhaps? (via Found)
A British divorce law firm has stirred up controversy by advertising its services on posters in lavatories at trendy bars. The posters in womens' toilets read "All men are Bastards!", whereas the ones in mens' toilets bear the old anti-Thatcherite election slogan "Ditch the bitch".
The Branded Life: Two American teenagers, whose respective parents apparently didn't begin putting money away for their college education when they were born, have come up with a clever way of putting themselves through college: by renting themselves out as walking advertisements. If you give them money, they will not only walk around with your logo plastered all over their clothes but eat your food, read your magazines in public (regardless of subject matter), fly on your airline, and generally turn their lives into advertisements for your brand.
This leads to a lot of speculation. What sorts of constraints would their sponsors put on their lifestyles/behaviour? Given how rigidly controlled the lifestyles and images of inanimate brand mascots are, you can bet that corporations won't want their walking billboards doing anything that does not suit their image. If their fellow students, wary of being advertised at whenever in their present, begin to avoid the two, will the sponsors dump them? Would such an experiment end in corporate-image catastrophe or could such corporate sponsorship be the future of education for the underprivileged and mediagenic?
A Russian television station has been suspended over subliminal advertisements. The single-frame ads, appearing as only a flash, read "sit and watch only ATN".
Computer-generated creativity: a program which designs product advertisements, often more creatively than human ad executives. (BBC News)