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The Advertising-Technology Complex
by Thomas Myer

Just when I thought I'd seen the end of creativity concerning advertising on the radio and TV airwaves, in magazines and newspapers, and on every big Web site, something newfangled comes along.

I read in the current Wired that one company has begun testing 15-second ad spots on ATMs all over San Diego, and that another company is beaming ads straight to the LCD displays on gas pumps in North Carolina.

What creativity! It seems that advertising folks are scrambling to cram information about their company's products into every single niche they can find.

Well, I like creativity. So, in the public interest, I'm going to pump some high-octane fuel onto the creative pyre, and see if anyone uses my ideas. They aren't original ideas -- I'm just spinning off what I think should be feasible thanks to the continuing evolution of information technologies.

Picture this: You're at the grocery store, picking up an extra six-pack of Miller Genuine Draft™ and some Portabello mushrooms for a killer vegetarian faijita dish. You go through the express check-out lane, and use your debit card to pay for the items.

Deep in the bowels of the grocery store's computer network, a database links the SKUs of what you just bought with the account number and whatever personal information (name, phone number, date of birth) on your debit card.

After about six months, the grocery store has a nice information horde about you and your consumeristic ways. For extra cash, they rent this data to a large information brokerage firm who, in turn, sells the data to several customers, including TV manufacturers, who have put a bunch of smarts in their television sets. Like the ability to query databases for information on its owner (hey, you used that new Platinum card to buy it, didn't you?) in a national database, which will link to information provided by -- you guessed it -- stores like your neighborhood retail grocer. Your smartypants TV set then requests certain information beamed to it during preset "programming holes" so you can get customized commercials delivered to you live.

So instead of the year's best commercials during the Super Bowl, you'll get a reminder to buy lettuce (it's been a week since you bought your last head of romaine) and get your tires rotated at Spiffy Tim's Brake 'n' Lube™.

Imagine the fun that hackers could have with this whole setup. They could infect databases with nasty little viruses that reconfigure data pertaining to large demographic groups all across civilization. Imagine: upper-income thirty-something Chicago male bachelors getting nothing but commercials for yeast infection medication.

If I get onto an elevator and a retinal scan identifies me as a frequent buyer of Blues CDs -- this courtesy of a global database available via satellite uplink -- and I start hearing Muzak™ versions of Stevie Ray Vaughn classics, I'll be seriously pissed I even wrote this column.

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Myer

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