Digital Slob
Curt Brandao

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Big Brother has a
deal you can’t refuse

Advertising has been a blight on us all since the beginning of time, but now, at the dawn of the Digital Age, the virus finally taken over the host.

Not only are unsavory sales pitches being forced down our gullets in record amounts, they're now practically oozing out of our pores (if this is a particular problem for you, I recommend Clearasil, which should lead to clearer skin in just three days).

In a recent report on Wired.com, Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent, said that according to his company's research, 25 percent of all communication between people -- that's right, ALL communication -- is basically word-of-mouth advertising. That means everywhere, millions of times a day, conversations like this must be the norm:

"Hey, John, What's up?"

"Hey, not much. Got laid off. The bank foreclosed on my house. My wife's been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating blood disorder. ...


"Oh, and I just tried that new Diet Pepsi with Lime -- y'know, that's good stuff!"

This is why the ad industry's latest, hottest, sell-your-soul-to-the-devil-quick scheme is "viral marketing," a sales method that sneaks brand loyalty into our psyches via "accidental" encounters, like man-on-the-street bump-ins ("Excuse me, would you mind taking my photo with my new Samsung picture phone next to this Sprint store?"), Internet chats ("I just looove Brad Pitt, too! LOL!! Almost as much as my home mortgage lender!") or, if rumors are true, even more insidious black-ops deep-cover work ("I promise to love, honor, obey and take the family car to Jiffy Lube every 3,000 miles").

But even if we hide our paranoia meds under our tongues and alienate all our friends just to make sure no marketing moles dig under our defenses, we're still not safe -- ad execs are planning to tag us like endangered sea turtles.

Arbitron is testing Portable People Meters, pager-like devices that will monitor the ads we see and hear, and observe how they effect our purchases.

Like Nielsen families, we'll be lured into these virtual "buy-o-spheres" with cash incentives, if only because shooting us with dart guns from hovering helicopters is still too much of a legal gray area.

Meanwhile, TV and movie producers have almost completed the transition from sticking a little product-placement into their content to sticking a little content into their product placements.

Soon, cable set-top boxes will come with "object-tracking technology," so we can click and buy whatever's on our TV screens at the time, anything from Vanna White's blouse to whatever's left of Donald Trump's dignity.

As for new plot devices in shows that will be as useful as the e-commerce software leeching off them, the possibilities are endless.

Perhaps in next season's "24," CTU will track down a terrorist cell trying to leave the country with KFC's secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

Perhaps Teri Hatcher will lose her "Desperate Housewives" plumber boyfriend to a neighbor who cooks with Stove Top Stuffing instead of potatoes.

For Slobs, it's hard to know where to turn for solace. Fortunately, I think I still have a Diet Pepsi with Lime in the fridge.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.
Also see www.digitalslob.com

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's production editor. Reach him at: cbrandao@starbulletin.com

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