Thursday, September 27, 2007

Advertising's Assault on Our Senses

Have you noticed that advertising is popping up everywhere? And I don't mean just on your computer screen.

We expect to find ads in our magazines, newspapers, on television and radio; we're not surprised to find flyers and brochures stuck on the doorknobs of our homes, laying on any table in any office waiting room, slipped under the windshield wipers of our cars. We've seen plenty of billboards, neon signs, and posters plastered on the sides of walls surrounding construction sites. On lawns we see real estate sales signs; sometimes we see signs supporting political candidates or, if there's remodeling going on, signs promoting the construction company. We tune out most of these ads because there are simply more "buy! use! buy!" messages than our poor brains can process in a single day.

But let's consider some other advertising "encounter spots" we face regularly:

At grocery stores we find ads on the child seats in the grocery cart; there are signs or devices holding coupons sticking out into the aisles; announcements are made telling us of specials of the day; the store's name is on the carrying bags, sometimes accompanied by an additional message from another advertiser ("Save on the price of admission to [insert name of your local amusement park here] for Jubilee Whatever Days!") Even that little plastic bar that you're supposed to use to separate your order from the next one is statistically proven, prime ad space.
Media Life Magazine reports:

"At a fraction of a billboard's 600 plus square feet, the messages carried on AdSticks, the plastic bars that separate your groceries from the next guy's in line, might be considered obscure. But with a 35 percent average sales lift and a reach into over 32 million households, advertisers are lining up to put their images on these mini-billboards."

My local stores must be behind the curve with their plain conveyor belts at the checkout lines because last year
Marketing Blurb informed us that:

". . . a company called EnVision Marketing Group is introducing a patented system to print digital photo-quality ads directly on grocery store checkout lane conveyor belts. This would certainly keep us entertained for several loops while we load the belt with branded goodies from the food aisles."

One of the most annoying ad assaults was installed, then removed, from one of my neighborhood stores: the constantly playing video monitor at the head of the checkout line. A September 7th post at
MediaInfoCenter brings us up to date on this phenomenon:

"As television networks seek a captive viewing audience online, CBS also is searching on actual lines: in doctors' offices, at car repair shops, and now, at the grocery store. That push was highlighted yesterday by CBS's agreement to buy SignStorey, which owns digital video displays in more than 1,400 supermarkets around the country. CBS will pay $71.5 million for the company, which it plans to rename CBS Outernet.

"CBS has had an exclusive distribution agreement with SignStorey since 2006, exposing the network's programming to 72 million shoppers a month at SuperValu, Pathmark, ShopRite, Price Chopper and other stores, including those in six of the top 10 markets. The network chops its programming – both news and entertainment – into 10- or 20-second chunks that shoppers can catch as they wander around the store."

Oh, boy. Catching chunks of programming while I shop – as if the shopping experience wasn't already sufficiently aggravating. But that isn't enough ad exposure as far as CBS is concerned. The article continues:

"'One of our mantras as we head forward is, 'We produce great content. We are now going to get paid for our great content in a million different ways,'" said CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.

"The network, for example, has had a deal with AMR's American Airlines for almost a decade, which helps CBS both market its programs and generate ad revenue. American Airlines flights offer CBS programs, and the network sells ads that appear in the programs. Mr. Moonves credits that agreement with helping to build an early audience for 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' a comedy that became a monster hit for the network.

"Several weeks ago, CBS entered into an agreement with AVTV Networks that includes showing CBS programming in the waiting rooms of doctors' offices around the U.S. CBS says the program reaches 300,000 viewers monthly now but expects the service to reach as many as three million viewers per month in 2008. CBS also has distribution agreements with Royal Caribbean Cruises, the Mall of America, Simon Malls, and AutoNet TV and Salon Network Channel, networks that play in auto-body shops and a line of Midwestern beauty salons, respectively.

"I would love for somebody to be able to say, 'I'm really getting sick of seeing all this CBS stuff,'" says George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group. 'That'd be a compliment.'"

Mr. Schweitzer, allow me to be the first to compliment you: I haven't even seen all of your CBS stuff and I'm already sick of it. And, Mr. Mooves, please stop gleefully rubbing your hands together and stifle that greedy "bwaaaaa-haaaa-haaaa-haaaa" laugh.

Is there nowhere to turn without being assaulted by an advertisement?

If you go to a movie, you can expect a half-hour of straight product advertising followed by movie trailers advertising more movies before the film you want to see begins. Of course, you could always choose to see movies on your cell phone (I'm admittedly unclear why anyone would make that choice) but, if you use Verizon as a service provider, you'd be treated to
ads there, too.

Think you'll just get out of town and get away from it all for awhile? At the airport, besides all the obvious spots, ads can now be found on the tray where you put your stuff while you go through the security scan; get seated on the plane and you're likely to see an ad on your tray table.

Face it: there's no escape.

Take a look at Business Week's fascinating
photo essay on some of the truly clever advertising techniques that are now in use, including temporary ads on long, skinny stickers that are placed over parking space stripes in parking lots; manhole covers in New York topped by ads for steaming cups of coffee; Cingular's name plastered on "I Love New York" pizza delivery boxes.

And to get back to that ad assault in the grocery store, CBS is
etching ads for its fall programs on eggs – yes, you read that correctly, etching ads on eggs. (If you don't click on any other link in this post, please click on that one!)

Well, I'm not buying it. Advertising may be assaulting our senses, but it doesn't have to make us senseless. I'm going to take a stand by remembering a favorite quote from 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal:

"All man's problems derive from not being able to sit quietly in an empty room."

I hope you'll join me in a moment of quiet protest against ubiquitous advertising. In fact, I think that's such a great idea, I'm going to try to figure out how to spread the word.

You know, advertise it.

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


sans auto said...

"Signs, signs, everywhere are signs, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"

OK, so the song wasn't about advertising, maybe you need to rewrite the lyrics just a bit.

I am proud every time we ride by a McDonalds and my wife asks my 4 year old, "what's that?" and he doesn't have a clue. I do think this is poor timing for the article though, NPR is doing their "pledge drive" where they do an intense ~10 days of "SEND US MONEY" before they go back to their (mostly, but getting less) advertisement free programming.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Ah, yes, NPR and PBS are favorite charities of mine. Grants from large foundations are the backbone of much "free" programming, but if only everyone who listens and watches would join or donate, the stations probably would be able to survive without advertising.

Good job with your 4 year old child! Studies have been done showing that kids that young have already developed brand allegiance. Pretty scary.

Thanks for your comment!

BigNerd said...


1st: Kudos to 'Sans Auto' who beat me to the 'Five Man Electrical Band' lyrics referenced here - nice!

2nd: Your commentary is a one-two punch on our visually polluted world. Our poor brains and senses. God have mercy on us and our children. It has become progressively harder to protect ourselves on our own terms. My sword is the mute button (or power button). Unfortunately when I tread outside of the home, my sheath is empty.

I love siting of current and proposed technology as well as your own real-life observations as it relates to the mess at hand. A great read - not something I'm finding online or in print these days.

If it's consumer wallets that have fueled our predicament, than it will be consumers who win the ultimate arm wrestling match with Big Media. If I can set up a spam filter in my email, why can't I set up a 'commercial' filter for my T.V.?

Waking everyone up from the incessant din of marketing long enough to get them to say "I'll pay you for your silence" will be the challenge.

Blog on!,

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for your comment, Sam, and special thanks for your very kind words about my writing style.

I agree that consumers need to take control of this out-of-control situation. So far, those who can afford it seem to be coping by heading off to increasingly popular retreat-style vacations and day spas! But what about everyone else?!

Tivo and other digital recording services make advertisers very nervous because zooming through annoying commercials is now even easier than it was back in the days of videotape. Being able to do that gives the audience some measure of control.

There also have been political movements to restrict the number and size of billboards or other kinds of signage that have been effective, too.

But dealing with this saturation-level of advertising is just going to be a tough issue to resolve. When does the noise of the free market become so intrusive that government has to regulate it? How does capitalism function if consumers don't want to hear advertising messages?

I sure hope smart minds somewhere are hard at work figuring this out!

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Healium lover said...
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Cynthia Friedlob said...

Hello, Readers –

There has been some concern about authenticity and factual accuracy in the comments section of this post. As a result, all of the relevant comments have been deleted.

The Thoughtful Consumer blog is meant to be a place for a fair and equitable presentation of issues that affect consumers, and for thoughtful discussion about those issues. Every effort will be made to ensure that these standards are upheld.

Thank you all for your understanding and cooperation.