Has advertising gone too far?

02:07, Jul 19 2013
John Hamm
MAD MEN: The hit TV show gives us an insight into the advertising industry in the 1960s.

In the 2002 movie Minority Report, advertisements literally heckle the hero, John Anderton, as he walks along beside them. They know his name, his preferences, and altogether too much about him - a vision which the likes of Facebook and Google have already made excellent progress on translating into reality.

To further illustrate the horror of this, if you imagine it being Tom Cruise instead of the part he plays, the personalised advertising network might have popped up with ads for elevated shoes and super-high-bouncing couches.

While our society hasn't quite managed holograms that accost you, I can only assume the blueprints are sitting on a workbench somewhere as we speak. Because every week or two, advertisers figure out some new way to colonise some hitherto peaceful space within our society with their incessant yammering. And the somewhat stalky behaviour exhibited in Minority Report has a parallel in the recent behaviour of the US department store Nordstrom, which admitted to monitoring its customers' location within their stores by monitoring their Wifi connections.

The other day I was at a petrol station filling up my car. No sooner had I detached the pump from the bowser than a screen sprang to life above it, forcing me to endure non-stop jingles as I stood there resentfully. Apparently it wasn't enough for the petrol station to be slugging me the exorbitant price that petrol goes for nowadays.

Advertising is on the walls of public toilets, on the in-flight entertainment as we catch flights and on our many screens. The other day I used a movie app on my phone to figure out which film to watch, and found that I had to watch another 30 second ad before watching the movie ad for the movie!

If you go to a sports ground, ads are painted all over the grass, are visible as distracting animations along the sideline and display constantly alongside the action on the big screens. And of course the post-match interviews are conducted in front of those stupid backdrops littered with sponsors' logos that have become as much a fixture in modern professional sport as betting and doping scandals.

I presume before long, sports teams will drop any identity beyond their corporations', and we'll see different brand names competing on the field. Already, several Japanese baseball teams are simply owned by large brands, and represent them on the field.

I've no doubt that somewhere deep within the UN or the Trilateral Commission or whoever it is that really runs the world, some innovative advertising representative is negotiating to change our calendar so that each day, year and month is named after a brand instead of a number. It reminds me of how in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest years are named after things like adult nappies. After all, one man's dystopia is one marketing guru's innovative brand exposure solution.

I still can't quite believe it's true, but the other day there was a report of German train commuters who had leaned their heads against the window glass hearing advertisements piped directly through their ears using their bones to conduct the sound. Imagine the horror of leaning your head to get a few moments of zoning out on your tedious daily commute, only to have ads funnelled straight into your cerebral cortex.

The only hope is that instead of the onslaught of advertising influencing consumer sentiment in a favourable direction, it will instead create a backlash - of the sort which Naked Communications generated this week when it tried to swap interviews with Kevin Rudd for advertorial.

Perhaps when we shop in the supermarket, we will begin choosing the brands that aren't so rude as to interrupt us, or book our holidays with the airline that isn't so arrogant as to insist that national teams be referred to exclusively with its name. Perhaps we will appreciate a sponsor who gives a brief, interesting presentation at the start of an sporting event, and doesn't subsequently insist on their ugly logo visually polluting the jerseys and the field and the scoreboard and the sidelines and the presentations and practically every frame of the contest we're watching for a rare chance to relax in our otherwise frantic, overstimulated lives.

I for one will try to follow this mantra whenever I can. Although I fear that my brain is becoming so addled by advertising that I literally can't even remember the names of any other brands.

- Daily Life