So you enter a lift and notice a digital screen playing a commercial. Do you have an interest in this ad? Probably not. But having to interact or make eye contact with individuals around you in a 5’x5’ confined box is the far from ideal. You have no choice but to fall victim to the commercial.
Does this sound familiar?
If the answer is no – what about in a spare moment you unlock your phone to check a Facebook notification. Flash-forward 25 minutes and you regain consciousness to find yourself lost in the digital realm: on an old Facebook album from a friends Bali holiday, a ground-breaking news story or deep into The Iconic’s new arrivals page.
You didn’t mean to do that. What just happened?
How did I get to Page 22?
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
(AND BY ME, I MEAN THE INTERNET)
I want to assure you, it is all part of a master plan.
Costing millions of dollars.
As we live in the days of cryptocurrencies and cardless cash, it is clear that that we pay in more ways than ever before. Although we sometimes still pay in traditional forms, we also trade with data, and more often than not, with our ‘time and attention’ (Wu, 2017). Essentially, we allow these corporations to access or minds in return for something free – access to social media or streaming sites to watch the latest episode of Keeping up with The Kardashians.
The idea is that as a society we ‘spend our attention’ by accepting to view these ads in exchange to obtain what we want. However, as discussed in The Crisis of Attention Theft (2017), there are advertisers who hijack our attention for exchanging nothing in return – and more importantly – without consent. Known as ‘attention theft.’
Research has revealed over the years that our minds react involuntarily and are deeply influenced by sound and motion. It is explained by neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley and psychologist, Larry Rosen that as humans, we have ‘extreme sensitivity to goal interference from distractions by irrelevant information’. In simpler terms, advertising assists in bypassing the decision-making process and persuades the buyer to purchase products or services they don’t actually need (except the pairs of shoes I bought last week – I definitely needed those!).
..Where can I get one?
The big debate is the definitive meaning of ‘consent’ in the advertising world. It seems there is a fine-line between consciously browsing Facebook and being fed brand messages whilst in a captive environment. It is almost impossible nowadays to be in transit without being confronted with several conflicting brand promotions *rolls eyes.
However, these intrusive and unavoidable messages don’t come as a surprise. In 2017, the advertising expenditure worldwide was expected to reach 791 billion Australian dollars (yes, you read correctly – almost 800 billion dollars was spent in advertising). To put this in perspective, you could literally buy the world’s population a 2-litre Coca Cola bottle every week, for an entire year.
I’m sorry, what?
Society has reached a point of complete bombardment of brand messaging –
How did we get here and how did we allow this to happen?
BACK IN MY DAY..
(SAYS THE TWENTY-TWO YEAR OLD)
I am fortunate to be born early enough to remember when advertising was not present in every moment. I reflect with such pleasant memories of a household filled with laughter and chatter, as opposed to the blaring sounds of the latest car adverts or the junk mail I step over to get to my car every day. The only advertising I was exposed to was the local newspaper or the occasional TV and radio commercial, which were restricted to a one-sentence brand message with the simple words of ‘sponsored by’.
With the home once known as a sanctuary, it has now evolved into a hub of inescapable messages.
MAKE IT STOP. MAKE IT ALL STOP.
SO WHAT NOW?
You may be asking, how do we get our freedom back? I know I am. A feasible solution could be updating our laws of public nuisance, to refine advertising on captive audiences (i.e out-of-home messaging on public transport services). As discussed by Tim Wu (2017), the world has seen a similar matter in 1940, where cities had prohibited motor vehicles, blasting loud advertisements on speakers in the streets. I believe the modern day advertisements and the example of the noise ban for vehicles go hand-in-hand.
Even though the concrete paths on our streets are still shades of gray; play grounds on our school yards are not yet spray-painted with brand messaging and our sky is still free of advertising – we have to ask, how long do we have before our areas of clean space are no more?
It is safe to say, it will be a tough fight to keep things this way!
Wu, T (2017). WIRED. The Crisis of Stealing Attention. Accessible on: https://www.wired.com/2017/04/forcing-ads-captive-audience-attention-theft-crime/
Statista. (2017). Global Advertising Spending 2017. Accessible on: https://www.statista.com/statistics/273288/advertising-spending-worldwide/