I Spy, With My Little Eye…

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that I am not influenced by advertising.”

So said my friend, after I handed him a copy of my book, Marketing, My Ass!, the story of how advertisers have infiltrated our minds to the point of no return. My eyebrows shot up in disbelief.

My friend grew up in the same cultural environment that I did, has enjoyed a long, fruitful career in the world of finance, and is now at an age where he’s looking forward to retirement within the next few years and more time with his wife at home. He has a beautiful yet modest house in the suburbs, a pool in the backyard, the requisite two cars, a closet full of business suits, and two grown children who have enjoyed a pleasant middle-class lifestyle. He prides himself (rightly so) with being very up-to-date about what’s going on in the world, and several times a year we enjoy getting together and comparing notes.

“You don’t think you’re influenced by advertising at all?” I asked, one eyebrow still reaching for the sky.

“Nope. Not at all. I zip through commercials on TV and don’t look at them in the newspaper or in magazines. I can’t stand advertising, it bothers the heck out of me. I ignore it.”

hiding 1

Familiarity breeds contempt

He seemed very proud of his ability to “tune out” advertising messages, and I also caught a whiff of appropriate disdain for the industry. Perhaps, having a friend like me who made her career in advertising, he was just glad to finally admit that he never really respected what I did for a living. Then again, I too have recently done a complete back-flip. So we were splashing around in the same pool, but I still got the sense that he was blowing bubbles underwater.

“Do you realize,” I said, “That every time you go on a web site now, you have advertising in your peripheral vision? What about billboards along the highway? What’s that logo on your shirt?”

He looked down at this shirt with surprise. “I don’t know,” he confessed, “It was there when I bought it.”

“Have you heard of guerrilla marketing?” I persisted.

“No,” he admitted, “but it sounds aggressive.”

“Exactly. Someone sits down next to you at a bar, and starts talking about a new beer. He asks if you have tried it, and the two of you strike up a friendly discussion about the qualities of a good beer. Except that he’s being paid by a marketing company to do this, and you’ll never know that you’re talking with someone who has memorized a script and is reporting back to head office.” (It must be a great job for budding actors.)

My friend looked at me with a blank face. He’s used to me trying to shock him.

“Did you also know that, in the New York subway, they are conducting an experiment with vibration advertising? If you fall asleep and your head rests on the plexiglass window, it sets off an advertising message that is conducted through your skull via vibrations. You may or may not be aware of it.”

Again the blank face, this time with a little skepticism. Most people don’t want to believe the lengths that advertisers will go to, to get your attention.  Most people don’t care, either. What are they going to do with this information? Go live in a cave?

No. That’s drastic and unnecessary. For starters, though, let’s be MORE AWARE.

Being influenced is not necessarily an active choice.

Here’s an update from the world of retail, and something I think all Smart Shoppers should know. You’re being watched, counted, tracked, categorized and… eventually…. you will be manipulated into buying something. And this is not something in the pipeline – it’s already happening.

The Silicon Valley tech start-up uses algorithms to interpret data taken from surveillance video cameras and smartphone trackers installed inside some of North America’s biggest retailers.

The video cameras and Wi-Fi trackers can tell store owners important details, like how long a customer spends looking at a specific pair of jeans, whether they take them to the change room and if they end up buying them. Wi-Fi trackers, which can be set up on store shelves, gather data by automatically activating and reading anonymous identifiers in customer’s smartphones. Beyond the identifier, which is a long list of numbers unique to every iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry, retailers do not receive any other personal information about the phone owner.

RetailNext said its mobile analytics technology is used at 400 locations in Canada, including at clothing retailer American Apparel, as well as Bloomingdale’s and Verizon Wireless in the U.S. The cost of buying the software to analyze the data can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month, depending on the depth of the information requested.



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