Friday, February 2, 2007

Real World Spam

There are as many opinions about the recent Boston bomb scare/ad campaign as there are blogs on the Web (4.3 gazillion, at last count). Some claim the Boston authorities overreacted, and some say it was necessary. Some say the two men who planted the devices were reckless and irresponsible, and others that they were hapless pawns of big money advertisers like Turner Broadcasting.

The fact that seems to be overlooked is that this is an incident of real world (i.e., non-e-mail) spam. Yes, spam, pure and simple. This is advertising that's meant to circumvent the normal channels in order to get in your face. Technology watchers often talk about disruptive technology ... technology that changes the way lives and business are conducted in significant ways. The TBS Adult Swim ads are an example of disruptive advertising. It works precisely because it defies your expectations about where advertising should be and how it should reach you. The bomb scare was the best publicity Turner could have wished for.

In fact, the advertising is scarier than the bomb threat! Actual bombs would have been either the result of a few deranged individuals (Think Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph or Theodore Ka... uh, the Unabomber), or the work of a determined subversive organization like al Qaeda or the Aum Shinri Kyo cult. Subversive advertising, on the other hand, is the product of our own culture and economy. It is the inevitable outcome of our technology and economic system.

As technology advances, we are confronted with more and more media outlets. Only 60 years ago, there were newspapers, magazines and radio. Now there's television, the Internet, downloadable software and content, and a host of other ways for messages to reach us. Not only does the technology give us ways to filter out advertising (pop-up blockers, fast forwarding on VCRs and DVD players, etc.), but we ourselves become numb to the ever-present advertising that confronts us. We learn to ignore it. How many people actually look at the ads on their Google search pages? (Please look at the ads on this blog!)

So, like an organism adapting to a changing environment, advertising itself has to become at once more intrusive and more tightly integrated with content. Product placement in movies and TV shows is everywhere. People drive cars and wear clothing festooned with billboard-style ads. Busses and taxis carry animated displays. Public buildings and sports venues are named after sponsors. And, of course, FAX and e-mail spam are out of control

This kind of unrelenting, in-your-face advertising is much like the tobacco companies' increasing nicotine levels in cigarettes in order to hook more smokers faster. This is strictly a corporate survival tactic.

No comments: