Monday, January 22, 2007

Reality Stalking

We are living in a brave new world where ubiquitous marketing and citizen paparazzi armed with low cost camera phones are forming new boundaries around our personal space.  

The Net result is that marketers and consumers simultaneously have never had as much and as little power as they have today.  The consequence is both an extraordinary opportunity and cause for concern.

The latest alert to my marketing border patrol was a recent New York Times article on something that we have suspected for sometime – the accelerating expansion of advertising into every crevice of our daily lives.  From toilet paper dispensers and plastic bins used at airport security to video billboards on the interstate, advertising is everywhere.  Blank space is a now at a premium, and interactivity is the name of the game.

In an effort to engage the consumer, we are seeing more and more instances where consumers can exchange text messages with outdoor advertising and where bluetooth enabled billboards can track your movements and send you information about promotions or the location of nearby stores.

Armed with new technology, marketers are looking for new venues to stalk us at the same time we use technology like Tivo to tune out traditional forms of advertising. 

On the flip side, the public is doing some stalking of its own.  From celebrities and politicians to customer service reps, technology is enabling everyone with a cell phone camera or tape recorder to capture private
moments and make them public on blogs, YouTube and mySpace.  Ask actor Michael Richards and former Senator George Allen about the impact of the interactive age. 

Now I know that stalking is an ugly word, but it proves a useful metaphor.  Just as a stalker crosses boundaries and violates our personal space – both physical and mental – so are advertising and camera phones eroding our personal space and invading our privacy.

What does this all mean for us?  Will reality stalking end?  Can we control its course? 

It is just a sign of how readily we have embraced consumerism that we don’t stand up and announce we are not going to take it anymore.

Did someone say revolt?  On the contrary we revel in it — making our own commercials for companies and advertisers and posting our private moments for the world to see.  We are looking for fame and want to share the spotlight with the celebrities we worship.

Technology can serve the forces of good and evil; it comes down to intent.  Helping me find a store location in an unfamiliar neighborhood and alerting me of a promotion at a nearby store is fine.  Exposing the racist remarks of celebrities or candidates is laudable.  On the other hand, posting unauthorized photos of strangers in the health club locker room or selling personal information obtained by this technology to unauthorized third parties is not.  As marketing, advertising and PR experts, we have the responsibility to know the difference.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 14:01:28 | Permalink | Comments (3)