ScienceBlogs is introducing a new feature called “Ask a ScienceBlogger” wherein the ScienceBloggers are all asked to respond to a question. (You’d never guess that from the name, would you?) The first question is:
If you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?
I was thinking of going with cell phones, but I don’t really hate cell phones per se — I just hate people yapping on them while they’re driving, and I have seen other drivers create similarly dangerous situations by driving while applying mascara or driving while eating milk and cereal (with two hands, natch) from a ceramic bowl.
Really, the last century’s most loathsome invention ought to be horrible not merely in combination with some other activity (like driving). Its evil ought to be switched on no matter what the circumstances.
Which is why I’m going to go for embedded advertising.
Yes, I understand that advertising pays a lot of the bills for radio and television production (and helps pay the bills for the hosting and such at ScienceBlogs). We don’t generally have to feed quarters into the TV to watch a show. (On the other hand, am I the only one old enough to remember when basic cable was nearly commercial free because you were already paying the cable company?)
In the normal course of events, you get your show and you get your commercial breaks. The commercial breaks may be a handy moment to grab a snack or take a bathroom break, but inertia probably keeps people watching a good number of them. Even with DVRs, which allow you to record programs and then jump through the commercials during playback, sometimes one watches the commercials anyway — maybe a strange image caught your eye as you were jumping through, or maybe your child wandered off with the remote control.
Embedded advertising is different because it’s woven into the content of the show. The products for sale are part of the storyline; if you want to watch the show, you’re stuck with the ads.
Why is this more evil than regular advertising? Instead of being content with access to the consumer (your commercial there on the screen or the playback for the view to attend to if he or she chooses), the advertiser demands your attention. This is a Clockwork-Orange-eyelids-wired-open kind of move, and it’s not nice. Rather than delivering the advertsing equivalent of a bottle of ketchup with your TV show omelette, embedded advertising drenches the show and mashes that commercial ketchup into every bite. If you want your damn eggs, you’re ingesting the ketchup too!
In the evolutionary arms race between advertisers and commercial-evading media consumers, the advertisers seem to have gotten the upper hand … for now. But the consumers aren’t done adapting (those snack foods might well contain mutagens), and it’s probably only a matter of time until embedded advertising is thwarted.