used to know when ads would attack: during TV timeouts, in public
transit shelters, on heavy-stock pages of magazines, grafted on
to my grocery store cart. I could prepare.
managed to catch on to "hidden" advertisements. I learned that a
Glamour spread on platform sneakers opposite a Skechers ad constitutes
"advertorial," that Cast Away is even more of a vehicle for FedEx
than Tom Hanks, that all the kids on Dawson's Creek are doubling
as J. Crew models. It dawned on me that buying that cute stuffed
chihuahua along with my seven-layer burrito is effectively paying
Taco Bell for the privilege of advertising for them.
advertisers fought back against my increasing ad awareness and resistance.
Subtlety failed, so they decided to try the opposite - wrapping
the world with ads.
never forget the day I saw my first wrapped car, a new VW Beetle
enveloped in a Jamba Juice ad. Gawking at the eyesore motoring away,
I noted the URL painted on the back bumper: MyFreeCar.com.
site asks those willing to trade their souls for a free car to fill
out an extensive questionnaire about where they drive, park, work,
live, and vacation, and whether they would be willing to hand out
product samples. Those who battle traffic with the right demographic
may be lucky enough to get matched with a sponsor. In that case,
the driver gets a brand new car "wrapped in an attractive advertisement"
for her personal use for two years. She only pays for gas and insurance,
but her movements are tracked by Big Brother (a global positioning
system) to insure that she does, in fact, drive the number of miles
Beetle runs about $15, 600, which means the advertiser is paying
just over $21 a day for the two-year period for constant air-time
on the road. It's not a bad deal, considering per-second television
costs and the skyrocketing prices of billboard space.
are surprisingly amenable to ad encroachment if they get something
for free. In an extreme case, a San Francisco man agreed to tattoo
a local burrito joint's logo on his arm in exchange for a lifetime
of free burritos. He swapped an unutilized patch of epidermis for
decades of delicious and nutritious meals. But more commonly, people
can get free Web server space if their sites are plagued by pop-up
ads, or free Internet access if part of the screen is devoted to
new advertising spaces are being discovered every day. There's the
wrapped car's erstwhile sister, the "street blimp," which is nothing
more than a billboard roving city streets on a flatbed truck. Coffee
cozies and bar coasters now feature movie promotions. Screens have
been installed at supermarket checkout lines so I can absorb commercials
during those precious idle moments. Soon, all ATMs will be promoting
products while my transaction is being processed.
frightening thing is people seem to be accepting this "ad creep"
(a term coined by Stay Free magazine) more and more. When San Francisco's
Candlestick Park was renamed "3 Com" in 1995, there was an outcry,
with fans and announcers refusing to acknowledge the change. But
when the Giants got a new stadium five years later and it was dubbed
Pacific Bell Park - complete with a giant Coke bottle for the kiddies
to play in, the Old Navy "Splash Deck," and Webvan-emblazoned cup
holders on the back of every seat - no one seemed to care anymore.
Similarly, pre-movie advertisements in the theater used to solicit
groans from American audiences, but now, while a few hisses persist,
most people serve as the passive and captive audience advertisers
surprisingly, the ad invasion coincides with our friend the New
Economy. There are more companies that need to advertise, so we
need to make more room. And more cash is presumably flowing. Companies
know that name recognition counts for more important than a solid
business model, and they've got to hammer their punctuation-riddled
monikers into the collective consciousness any way they can. The
same deluded CEOs who believe their Web widget is going to revolutionize
the world (and make them bagillionaires) say to themselves, "Why
stop at the sides of busses? Let's cover the entire thing with an
generally, the Internet enjoyed a climate for a while where the
more cockamamie an idea, the better. Wrapping the world with ads
is acceptable in a time when attracting people to a site by giving
away millions of dollars, as IWon.com does, isn't laughed out of
cyberspace. Ads spilling out of their usual borders go right along
with the gluttony, the messy hyped-up overflowing of the Internet
enough, many of the early adopters of the new advertising media
are Internet companies. Yahoo pioneered wrapping cabs (you may have
hailed one of these purple monstrosities) as well as searching the
Web. But most of the other wrappers are lesser-known Internet companies
including Nano.com, Beenz, LuckySurf.com, SmartAge, and LowestPremium.com.
novel Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace presents a version of
the future where the government allows companies to pay the government
to sponsor a calendar year. His novel takes place during the Year
of Glad, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, you get the idea.
It's the perfect distopian vision in that it is both ludicrous and
plausible, given the way we're headed with the Nokia Sugar Bowl.
maybe there's hope. Right after my first Jamba Juiced Beetle puttered
past, I saw a three-by-one inch neon green sticker on a bicycle,
which stated, "This Space Not Yet Sponsored." It reminded me of
the Nature Conservancy buying up rain forest before slash-and-burners
could get to it. It stood as a small declaration that our physical
surroundings are more than a canvas for commercials, that people
are more than their "eyeballs," and that some public spaces remain,
© 2001 Carson Brownl. All Rights Reserved.
Carson Brown is a writer living in San Cristobal de las Casas,
Mexico, who says "Viva la revolucion!" far more often than a self-respecting
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