Captivating Bullshit

British kids growing up in the 1970’s had a pitiful choice from three TV channels, only one of which showed commercials. As one of those kids, who watched a lot of TV, I could never understand why my dad would get so angry with the commercials – some of them were quite good! He used to say they were an invasion, or an intrusion. But surely it provides a convenient break to go for a pee or relax your brain? I thought.
As weird as it may sound, I was a lot older before realising that the BBC didn’t air commercials. Commercials were normal, but if they weren’t there I didn’t notice.
Things changed over the next 30 years.
Those of us that don’t watch broadcast TV and use Ad-block Plus on our browsers have been de-programmed from accepting commercials as part of our normal life experience.
Now for us, sitting in front of a TV relaying normal programming, is extremely hard to take. In fact it seems so weird that it’s difficult to comprehend how viewers can deal with it. Why would someone voluntarily opt to be subjected to a bunch of lies intended to sell you something you probably don’t need? You know you can turn that off now?
The people that do know how, turn it off. Other people do not. They’re not necessarily stupid people, they’re just used to it as a part of every-day life.
There is a big problem with this: what if everyone opts out of viewing advertisements? The entire web economy relies on advertisements – those of us that block them are actually damaging this economy! If everyone did it, the majority of commercial websites would die.
Fortunately most people don’t care – that will keep it ticking over for a while. But what of the future? What if everyone does opt-out? Well, they’ve thought of that!
If you end up in A&E (ER) your time will not be wasted because you can now sit and absorb hours of TV adverts while you wait for several hours. Buying petrol (gas) at the local station is no longer the hugely boring experience it once was because now you are forcefully subjected to commercial pressure by a TV screen at every pump while you wait to fill your tank! A boring old cab ride home now earns more money from you than the fare because every Philly Cab is equipped with a screen in the back that bombards you with commercials…fortunately the customer is allowed to turn off this particular telescreen.
These are all examples of invasive advertising – but there is a new form of advertising slowly making headway which makes the former seem quite enjoyable and cute: mandatory advertising.
Last year I flew to San Francisco with Virgin America. As is now traditional for airlines, the telescreens directly in front of us were hijacked to show a mandatory video about safety – you know, the thing that tells you how to put your seat-belt on, how to evacuate if the plane “lands on water” etc etc. The videos are important, and that’s why you can’t turn them off. They are played after the plane has started to taxi and so you must have your seatbelt on while you watch. It’s a pain in the arse for frequent travelers but we all understand why it’s necessary.
But this journey had a new twist: after the mandatory video were a couple of commercials – one of which was for a well known brand of Cola. We were still strapped in, and the commercial was still unstoppable.
To clarify, hundreds of people on a plane were forced to watch shitty commercials while they were strapped in. You can turn those telescreens off during the flight, but NOT while they’re showing you how to enjoy The Real Thing.
I was pretty shocked about this experience and it brought to mind the scene in A Clockwork Orange where Alex has his eyes pegged open…
Back to the now; every working morning I have to get into a lift (elevator). This lift not only delivers passengers to their desired floor, it also contains a small screen for us all to watch as we travel. The telescreen shows us snippets of news, sport, and a bunch of trite crap that no normal person could benefit from. Obviously they also contain on-screen commercials that help us decide what to buy. Nice. The screens proudly display their sponsor: “Captivate Network”.
The name “Captivate” is really rather sinister. Rather that invoking the notion of “captivating” an audience, what they are talking about is a “captive audience”. They’re gonna be in this lift for a minute or two – and there’s nothing they can do about it. So sell them shit! In the wonky world of marketing it doesn’t matter that no-one will ever actually fork-out for something that’s being advertised. We now have a situation where advertising “real-estate” (they do actually call it that) is worth money on its own. If you can push an ad to a place where people will see it, you get money!
Even if no-one ever actually puts their hand in their pocket, the marketing people cash out. It’s just another form of currency now.

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