It’s interesting to think about how advertisement has evolved to influence the public over time. In the early to mid 20th century, most advertisements were geared towards exploiting people’s fears and worries by presenting the perfect product that improves their self-esteem. Around the turn of the 21st century, advertising started to utilize humor and elements of surprise to capture the viewer’s attention.
With the addition of social media and portable touch devices, companies today are building advertisement plans based on how people view their wireless devices and how they use them.
Smartphone usage has grown dramatically in the past five years. I’m hard-pressed to find cases where people aren’t staring at their devices between activities, such as waiting for the bus, standing in line at the grocery store or during boring conversations. It seems like everyone is on the border of attention deficit disorder where some form of new visual stimulation must occur every 10 seconds.
The consumer is attacked with information on multiple fronts. Companies still get plenty of mileage by investing in direct advertisements that span all sorts of mediums including newspapers, billboards and the Internet. Indirectly, the consumer could be influenced by sponsoring a cultural icon that a target demographic might follow, or a third party organization funded by companies in the industry could make a press release for a “research study,” for example.
News websites are trying to make their websites more accessible and visually interesting for tablet and phone users. A new medium called Web documentary features fancy scrolling text in short, 200 word blurbs with a fancy illustration over a fancy background that scrolls from the bottom. Sometimes it’s visually interesting how the article is presented, but it feels like the important and relevant information within the news piece is sapped from the written content.
Departments like public relations are created to improve a company’s or product’s image to the consumer by influencing the environment around them. Some steps towards improving an industry are extreme. Edward Bernays, considered to be one of the founders of public relations, once overthrew the government of Guatemala in 1954 for the United Fruit Company to sell more produce to U.S. citizens.
As an experiment, I attended a Ford promotional event where minor prizes were offered depending upon how many events I participated in. They started me off by collecting my personal information such as my address and email likely so that they could use it as demographic data or sell it to third parties that might send additional advertisements.
I was given a radio frequency tag that glowed blue and was ferried between promotional stations where they gave me distractions along with the incentive to win petty merchandise or the slim chance to win a nice car. Each station only took about a minute long and had fascinating objects to capture my attention.
A large stage featured a huge digital engine switch that ran a slot machine and another made me play “spot the difference.” They gave me prizes even though I lost every single game I played. The score card that determined my final prize at the end heavily weighed the points on social media where I would “Like” or “Tweet” my loyalty to Ford.
After the scandal with the NSA over spying on U.S. citizens, major Web corporations like Facebook and Google changed their privacy settings in order to help protect users. However, there are still applications that make no promises towards protecting the privacy of the consumers’ information such as names, addresses and friends.
Just by presenting a pretty looking window with a big blue button that says “I accept these terms and conditions,” it is easy to collect and share personal information with countless companies looking to advertise, as well as whoever else might be interested.
The amount of information used to deliver tailored advertisement is frightening, but what is even scarier is that a lot of it is given voluntarily.