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get your microwave off my brain
the perils of 'personal' advertising
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

Now, before this rant begins, let me clarify something: I have been, and in small ways, continue to be, one of them. Yes, one of those individuals who uses back-alley psychology, insipid urgency and flat-out bribery to get you to buy a product or idea.

No, I'm not a used car salesman. Or a lawyer. I write advertising.

Mind you, I'm far beyond "Summer's Just Around the Corner!" I understand you owe yourself more than to check out the new Flobee. I am perfectly aware that free gift is redundant. Especially when you have to buy something to get it.

But that doesn't stop me and legions like me from catapulting our clients into your subconscious. That jaunty jingle? That clever catch phrase? The background music you just can't get out of your head? You're welcome. The evil plan is working and you can't stop it. Ten years from now you won't remember with whom you spent your 30th birthday, but you will remember "Get up, get up, put your body in motion..." as one of the many hip songs soundtracking a Mitsubishi car commercial.

Wind it up, baby.

[Editor's note: Hey! Ba-ba bahhhh...]

However, even I have scruples. And right now, I strongly protest the advent of personal advertising.

If you've seen Minority Report, you've witnessed a small sample of your future. You're jogging down the street in the middle of the night, just jogging along, and you decide to detour to the under-the-stairs hovel of a drug dealer. Sensing your despair, automatic billboards flash on all sides, catcalling reminders of the products that will make you feel better, look better, be better.

Funny how Tom Cruise heads for the drug dealer anyway.

This theme appears many times throughout the film. Singing and dancing characters are activated when you pick up a cereal box. Holographic store greeters ooze "Welcome back! How did those tank-tops work out for you?" Imaging hallways designed to attract you - not him, not her, you - to the products that add to your well-being or, at the very least, the illusion of well-being. You're just an eye scan away from the unveiling of the Next Big Thing you can buy that will change your life. Some of this technology – eye scanning and thumb printing for convenience – actually exists today and is being used for commercial purposes.

I appreciated this tactic in the movie, furthering the point that "in the future, someone is always watching." However, I look at advertisements as informational vehicles, nothing more. As a professional, I believe in the power of repeated messaging as a branding effort. McDonalds, with 30,000 restaurants worldwide, certainly doesn't need to advertise. But we all know what clown swings from those golden arches, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness thereof.

As a discerning customer, however, it's the Pavlovian response I've always questioned. An advertisement may introduce me to a product or idea, but I will not continue to support anything until I have proof that it's something I need to use, want to have, find helpful or makes my butt look smaller. Having determined this, why would I still need to be pitched?

Oh. Right. The old "you're interested in this, so you might just be interested in this..." Door Number Three approach.

Funny how I write the stuff but rarely believe the hype.

While I do think it would be interesting to have a la carte advertisements tailored to me so I don't have to waste thumb energy muting Molly Sims, I find it frightening that my retinal and fingerprint information might be freely disseminated to any party under the guise of adding to "my" convenience. Social Security numbers weren't designed to be personal identifiers either and now you can't even get a video store card without using your Social Security number.

My understanding is that it should be a Level Fire-Engine Blood Red security issue to scan my eyes and swipe my handprint, not the fact that Twinings just came out with a new chai I might like and is eager to tell me so when I log on to a particular website. I don't think it's necessary for the local Eddie Bauer to ring my cell phone when I'm in proximity to the store to alert me of a summer jean sale. And I certainly don't want TiVo downloading to Kimberly-Clark that I spent two hours watching a made-for-TV movie starring Veronica Hamel on Lifetime, thus encouraging the multi-conglomerate to mail me coupon buck slips and frequent customer punch cards for Kleenex Soft-Pack Tissues and Sara Lee Bite-Size Frozen Cheesecakes.

You might be chuckling, but these processes are already prototyped, designed to provide companies with a plethora of demographic information to best serve the needs of you, the customer.

How could any of us have need for a product so badly that we're willing to enter into an Orwellian society to get it? Someone is always watching, indeed. If I have trouble scratching the middle of my back, will I soon get an email message touting the benefits of a new extendable back-scratcher "designed especially for women six feet high or taller"? If I hit a wrong note while singing along with music blasting from the car stereo, will XM suddenly break away from programming to tell me about "Born to Sing!" instructional tapes?

Corporate marketing minions say these advances in technology will fuel a new generation of convenience – one in which all of our needs will be anticipated and thus, preemptively satisfied. I gauge convenience differently. Of course I want something designed specifically for me and within reach. I consider myself able to make my needs known when necessary, and able to seek out what I desire. I've even written advertising to attract individuals like myself – those who just want to know what it is, how it works, and where it can be found.

What I don't want is to relinquish private information to make it convenient for someone else to do business at my expense. Eye patterns. Fingerprints. Personal choice. These unique characteristics, part of the composite that defines our individual selves, are being manipulated and franchised for a soulless purpose. Big Brother, Inc. has stamped a bar code on our backside – preceded by a whopping dollar sign. In glistening sage green, just like you wanted.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


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topic: advertising
published: 1.28.04


russ carr
7.26.02 @ 12:11a

Call one of the big pizza delivery chains -- Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's -- just once, and it's all but certain that the next time you call, they'll have a record of what you ordered before and they may even be so bold as to ask if you want it again, before you get a chance to order. That's happened to me on several occasions. It's demographic tracking on a neighborhood level.

And similarly in cyberspace. Amazon.com tracks my purchases -- and even the books or movies or music I browse thru but don't purchase -- and then builds recommendation lists to offer me on my next visit.

At this rate, we'll all have to keep our credit cards in lead-lined wallets or purses, to avoid getting our credit rating -- and recent purchases -- picked up by every would-be digital salesman.

I am not, however, getting my eyes replaced, Mr. Sakamoto.

matt morin
7.26.02 @ 12:26a

Hey, people think I'm crazy for not signing up for the Safeway Club Card, which gives crazy discounts on most everything at the supermarket. I just don't want some database of everything I buy out there. (So I use a friend's card instead.)

Personally though, I'd rather see 100 ads a day for products that I'm more likely to use, than 90 ads for tampons, home owners insurance and perfume, and 10 ads for products I care about.

But here's my favorite quote about advertising. "Advertising is what you do when you can't go talk to every one of your customers yourself." And really, that's all it is.

russ carr
7.26.02 @ 12:40a

What really annoys me are ads for products which say nothing about the product itself. I'm on the Harris Poll list, which means every third week or so I get to participate in an online poll. The one I took yesterday, from Sauza Tequila, featured three ads which tied into a prospective new ad campaign, "Sauza: Sin a Little." All the ads (or the concept sketches) just showed lifestyle scenes, and in most there were a couple of shotglasses of tequila somewhere in the scene. But the copy said nothing about the tequila. No one was pictured actually drinking the tequila (or even holding it).

The implication of the ad: drink our tequila and you'll feel rebellious and devil-may-care...and hot chicks in devil costumes will crawl all over you. It may taste like the urine of an incontinent chihuahua...but who cares?

robert melos
7.26.02 @ 1:36a

"Incontinent chichuahua" -- I love it.

Anyway, a local sushi delivery place tracks your orders through your phone number. I found out when I called them from my cell phone and it didn't give them a caller id scan of my name and number. They had to ask for the information again, because I was screwing up their system.

So now I have a desire to go to Taco Bell. Must be something I read earlier.

robert melos
7.26.02 @ 1:36a

"Incontinent chichuahua" -- I love it.

Anyway, a local sushi delivery place tracks your orders through your phone number. I found out when I called them from my cell phone and it didn't give them a caller id scan of my name and number. They had to ask for the information again, because I was screwing up their system.

So now I have a desire to go to Taco Bell. Must be something I read earlier.

robert melos
7.26.02 @ 1:36a

"Incontinent chichuahua" -- I love it.

Anyway, a local sushi delivery place tracks your orders through your phone number. I found out when I called them from my cell phone and it didn't give them a caller id scan of my name and number. They had to ask for the information again, because I was screwing up their system.

So now I have a desire to go to Taco Bell. Must be something I read earlier.

tracey kelley
7.26.02 @ 11:46a

I called a taxi to take me to the airport the other day. They have our trips registered by phone number, so they were able to pull up our address and our destination. Freaked me out. Makes sense, but I'm wondering if the driver enters into the dispatcher's database how much I tip and how heavy my bags usually are.

I don't mind that kind of thing - much. But if the cab company starts trying to upsell me ("Take a cab to the Post Office - save wear and tear on your own car!" ) that's it.

matt morin
7.26.02 @ 12:40p

See, I love that stuff. When I call a cab from home, instead of saying my address, the cross street, my apartments number, my door code and my phone number every time, all I do is give them my phone number and hang up.

tracey kelley
7.26.02 @ 3:59p

Shout out to Russ for the ever so sly Music Man reference in my critique. Very clever. Different words, but I caught the synco-PAY-tion.

To answer your question, it was Jael being clever. When isn't she ever clever?

I personally like advertising that makes me laugh. I pay very close attention to that type of thing. Right now, the Heinie commercials are doing a good, subtle job of that.

jael mchenry
7.26.02 @ 4:01p

And it got the song in my head, too.

russ carr
7.26.02 @ 4:18p

We're just clever all over here at Intrepid. We're Mt. Cleverest.

russ carr
7.26.02 @ 4:28p

And what was the Music Man thing? It was late and it was all very stream of consciousness. I write best when I don't know what I'm saying.

But speaking of Music Man... there's a priceless quote that makes me think of you, Trace...

"There's not a man alive who could hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat and Noah Webster you've concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness and your library fulla' books!"

tracey kelley
7.27.02 @ 1:49a

Stubborn? Who you callin' stubborn?

My boy measures up, though. And he's tall.

It sounded like something from the routine Robert Preston did with Buddy Hackett "Older but Wiser Girl for Me."

ARGH! I just turned my own discussion into a movie yap! Please, will someone discuss the column? :>

tracey kelley
7.29.02 @ 8:40a

Oh yea - "Sadder but Wiser" thanks Russ.

Now, back to the show.

sarah ficke
7.29.02 @ 9:27a

It's Marian the Librarian's mother.

For some reason I don't mind Amazon tailoring their page according to what I've bought or browsed before, but if the TV started doing it, it would freak me out. I don't want to be typed based on every stupid show I'm too lazy to turn off.

tracey kelley
7.30.02 @ 11:05a

Okay Russ, you said, "I mince, I pick. I wanna hear the sultry singing donut"

Robert Preston said, "I smile, I grin. When the gal with the touch of sin walks in. I hope, I pray, that Hester wins just one more A."

Among other things.

The tv thing really scares me. I do some late-night viewing that positively defies catagorizing.


russ carr
7.30.02 @ 11:27a

No, I was not channelling Music Man for that line. It's all me.

sarah ficke
7.30.02 @ 11:51a

You wanna hear the sultry singing donut? Would that be cinnamon or chocolate with rainbow sprinkles?

erik myers
7.30.02 @ 11:59a

Gotta be jelly-filled. Those are the real sultry ones.


tracey kelley
7.30.02 @ 2:25p

Actually, it was a glazed donut. Hot, fresh and slippery on the tongue.

erik myers
7.30.02 @ 2:36p

Mmmm.. Krispey Kreme.

lee anne ramsey
8.2.02 @ 5:23p

uh, off the donut topic for just a moment, but as a supposed advertising professional I want to chime in. I agree that BRANDING advertising works. For an example, see Volkswagen.

All other "sales-y" forms of advertising is a waste of time, especially the ones that try to overexplain the product and all its features in 30 seconds (plus "register the brand" which means "put our hard to read and unrecognizable logo in the right hand corner throughout the spot"). Then they run this monstrosity for only 5 weeks of media time, thereby ensuring practically no one with either see the ad nor remember it when they are in the store making their buying decisions.

Which is why "personal advertising" actually makes more sense to me. Sure, I don't like the idea of big brother any more than anyone else, but I am on every single travel list in the world, and I love getting emailed updates of cheap flights, cheap hotel room rates, etc.

matt morin
8.2.02 @ 5:31p

There's that famous advertising saying: "If you can explain everything about your product in 30 seconds, it's simple enough you don't need to explain it. And if it's not that simple, don't try to do it in 30 seconds."

tracey kelley
8.6.02 @ 10:40a

Lee Ann, we can always count on you for the cyclical return! Bravo!

I don't mind signing up for things that interest me - I sought out those services. But like magazines selling their database of names - just because I subscribe to the Sun (mainly for the short fiction and the marvelous lead stories - the whiny reader crap is a waste of my time.) doesn't mean I want every wacko-so-extreme-leftist-you're-making-Uturns magazine that exists.

Not to mention, I find the contridiction hysterical when I receive big glossy promotional pieces from an environmental magazine. How about a simple postcard inviting me to the website?

BTW, I'm surprised no one in RDU recognized the title.


russ carr
9.16.03 @ 2:44p

Updating our top story: Officially "gone public" today is RFID, a ridiculously small chip that can (and will!) be embedded in just about everything you can buy within the near future. RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification. It is, in effect, a tracking device for stuff. It was designed, they say, to assist in inventory and things like that. But more than Kroger's knowing that more people are buying Heinz ketchup instead of Hunt's catsup, they'll know how often YOU buy it. Bind that to your credit card or debit card and soon you'll have a tidy demographic all your own, eager to be purchased by merchandizers galore.

juli mccarthy
9.16.03 @ 3:09p

In a way, that's kinda cool. I always think everyone should cater to me anyway.

russ carr
2.3.04 @ 10:55a

Your TiVo is watching you. Behold:

TiVo said it used its technology to measure audience behavior among 20,000 users during the Super Bowl. The exercise revealed a 180 percent spike in viewership at the time of the "wardrobe malfunction."

jael mchenry
2.3.04 @ 10:58a

But what does that mean? A bunch of horndogs rewinding and testing out their freeze frame.

tracey kelley
2.3.04 @ 11:08a


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