I’ve got ads in my pants

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Direct TV has started adding commercials to pay-per-view movies. Another little barrier falls. Even though you’re paying to see the film-paying presumably for the privilege of watching it unedited and free of commercials-some movies now come with ads attached to the beginning and end.
The ads I’ve seen push Entertainment Weekly magazine and offer discounted subscriptions. They’re relatively low-key and soft sell, but they’re commercials. That’s sure-as-shootin’ what they are. Certain movie studios had already been adding trailers for current theatrical fare to PPV movies, sometimes even at the beginning, when the audience is as close to being literally captive as possible.
I’ve noticed that on some DVDs, incidentally, the fast forward or skip-ahead buttons won’t work during product pitches that precede the feature-ads for other titles available on DVD or for films coming soon to a theater near you. You pretty much have to leave the room to avoid them, even though you paid for the DVD and it shouldn’t need advertiser support.
It’s Madison Avenue’s mission, of course-its dream, its obsession, its perverse idee fixe-to fill every available nook and cranny on the planet with advertising (and then perhaps boldly go into outer space). The goal is that there be no empty spaces, no safe havens, no shelter from the storm. Look at public TV. Not exactly an oasis from corporate propaganda. I love it when they put “Viewers Like You” at the end of a long list of underwriters, some of which get not just mentions but fully produced commercials.
Ad hominum
Viewers like who? Not me, brother. I’m not donating money to a “public” TV that has been privatized within an inch of its life. It would be like giving a donation to Krispy Kreme in addition to buying the damn doughnut.
But the great target of the ad-placers today, the equivalent to California during the gold rush, the region seen as still being in only the nascent stages of plunder, is of course the Internet. Here is a consumer’s nightmare and advertiser’s wet dream come true, a whole new way to invade the American home with invisible salesmen, a medium rife with possibilities for targeting not just groups but individuals.
By now we slaves to AOL are accustomed to having to hurdle an advertisement or two every time we sign on. More recently, AOL has managed to sneak in another ad when we sign off. One must point the mouse and click to avoid being delivered another commercial message before disconnecting. It’s the long goodbye.
Every company in America with more than two employees is forever imploring you to visit its Web site, but that’s a passive form of Internet advertising. The more pernicious and obviously more invasive kind is junk e-mail, spam; the mass messages that show up when you sign on to see who’s paid the new electronic equivalent of dropping by to say hello.
More and more, those dropping by to say hello are peddlers with wares-and they hardly stop at hello. No matter how one tries and no matter how many “unsubscribe me” messages one sends back (“unsubscribe me” is like that emergency telephone in the elevator- connected to nothing), the messages proliferate and the messengers find new sneaky ways of wangling into your life.
Disguising the commercials as personal messages is a very common and very cheap trick. The gambit is particularly popular with pornographers. Thus has this poor Internut been bamboozled lately with messages labeled “Why don’t you answer your phone?” and “Why haven’t I heard from you?” and “I can’t believe you would do such a thing” and “I saw you last night”-and lots of others that if you aren’t paying close attention could dupe you into thinking they were legitimate.
“I can’t believe you would do such a thing,” for instance, proffered the opportunity to see “Hot sexy cheerleading teens having sex.” In the world of Internet porn spiels, all the teenagers are hot and sexy and they all have sex all the time.
The truth-in-labeling messages may actually be worse because you know that someone out there in the ether for some reason thinks you’re interested in “farm-girl fun … girls and farm animals.” Jeez, if they can’t leave me alone, could they at least refrain from involving farm animals?
No respite
It’s becoming painfully clear that the Internet is no luxury mall. Neiman-Marcus and Saks may have Web sites, but the direct e-mail stuff is far more likely to come from the kinds of advertisers whose crappy infomercials air during those 2 a.m. lulls on cable channels.
Thus receipt at my e-mail address of these recent importunings:
“Sleep your way to a more perfect body” (if this were possible, I would be a cross between Brad Pitt and The Rock).
“Bank error in your favor.” Yeah, happens all the time.
“Impotency got you down?” As a general concept, yes. “Break free with the revolutionary flat hose!” Oh darn, that invalidates my frequent lament that “they can put a man on the moon but can’t come up with a flat hose.”
“Did you know you can legally own a cable descrambler?” No, but if it’s legal, what’s the fun of it?
The future’s for sale
“Ever wonder how you could fully open all the channels of your satellite system just like the people that have cable descramblers do?” Yes. I wonder about that and about whether there is life after death.
“Get paid to shop and eat.” Nirvana. Should have been thought of much earlier.
“Finally-full duplex exposed!” I checked this one out and discovered a selection of products that included an “EnGenius Wireless Access Point with Broadband Router.” Too bad my birthday is months away-it would make the perfect gift! And so on and so on-junk, garbage, crud. Wacky geegaws and worthless gadgetry, all for sale, plus of course the occasional outright deception or invitation to flout and perhaps even break the law.
Convergence is, so far as I know, still a hot topic in telecommunication circles. The computer and the TV set are fated to be mated, in Cole Porter’s phrase, and it’s only a matter of time and so on and what a wonderful world it will be. But for whom?
Already commercial TV is conditioning viewers to accept the computerlike notion of dividing the screen into sections, with some of those sections devoted to advertising. Watch a show on TNN, formerly The Nashville Network, and you’ll notice a permanent space at the bottom of the screen where promos appear. It’s hardly a giant leap to imagine that space being sold to advertisers.
CNN similarly chops the screen up into zones and is not above running promos in a space where you expect to see tickertape headlines. All of it is eventually going to moosh together in one great blur in which bought-and-paid for messages will co-exist as equals alongside legitimate news and information. A tornado warning and a sale at Kmart get equal billing, equal footing, equal prominence.
It’s depressing-truly, even clinically depressing-to always have someone tugging at your sleeve trying to sell you something. But they’ll also sell you Paxil and Zoloft to help cure the depression they helped cause, the blues you get from being pitched so many products, night and day, ’round the clock, every waking minute of your life.
Clearly, the sleeping minutes of your life are advertising’s next frontier. I have no doubt that someone is working on that little problem right now. This dream-o brought to you by Beano …