Watching what passes for news on the 24 hour networks, I have
to wonder what the intention is — what part of the news is just catering
to the masses with salacious stories about celebrities and fad diets, and what part
of the coverage is contrived to divert your focus from the important questions.
It’s like someone snapping their fingers in your face, shouting “look up here
right now!” while something kind of spooky is taking place in the shadows
Always up for a good conspiracy theory (I’m pretty sure I’ve
figured out how they get the caramel in a Caramilk bar), I naturally tend
towards the evil-in-the-shadows theory when it comes to most things.
I visit Cracked.com periodically for their humorous lists
— recent gems include “6 Famous Songs That Don’t Mean What You Think”, “6
Great Action Heroes (Who Should Be Convicted of Murder)”, and “20 Jobs Too
Awesome to Exist” — when I stumbled across a piece called “The 5
Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future”.
A lot of the things I suspected, or have heard of before, but
it was jarring to see it all in one place, and to realize how much revolves
around the Internet.
Basically, there are a lot of companies out there who want you
as a customer and want to be able to tailor their advertising messages to
increase their chance of succeeding. To do that, they have to get to know you.
They want to know what movies and television shows you watch, what car you
drive, what websites you visit, and how you spend your free time. If you’re
anti-brand and buy from small companies, they want to know what those companies
are so they can acquire the labels for themselves.
The only way to get this information is to spy on you.
And if you’re not bothered that a few companies are tracking
what you do, keep in mind the fact that American telecom companies after 9/11
had no problem turning phone and Internet data over to the U.S. government,
despite the fact that they didn’t have a warrant or a specific target in mind.
Companies can use the data they collect, and sell that
information to other companies. A whole data trading industry has popped up
where people sell your valuable personal information to telemarketers,
spammers, and other bottom feeders.
According to the Cracked.com article, which itself has links to
other stories, you’re probably being spied on by TiVo and your PVR, while every
site you visit is being tracked by Google to allow it to one day customize
search results based on your browsing history.
Another company called BuzzMetrics scours chat rooms, blogs,
Facebook pages, MySpace pages, and just about everywhere else looking for
buzzwords. The goal is to figure out what people are excited about, and use
that information to tell companies what kind of marketing campaign they’ll
Another marketing strategy covered by Cracked is customized
ads. Instead of packaging televisions shows with commercials, the strategy
would allow cable companies to insert specific ads for products you can afford.
For example, in the same commercial break a low income family could get
commercials for macaroni and cheese and debt consolidation services, a middle
class family could get ads for vacation spots and group cell phone plans, and a
wealthy family could get ads for the new Mercedes and the local plastic surgery
centre. The program could even differentiate between male and female, single or
married, dog or cat.
Another way you could be burned is through the GPS technology
in your cell phone. Imagine walking by a burger chain that you visit
occasionally, and suddenly getting a text message offering two for one burgers.
There’s really not all that much you can do about this, because
none of it is illegal per se. The safest thing is to assume at all times that
someone is watching the websites you visit, the movies you rent, the television
shows you watch, and the products you buy on your credit card or using your
Then try to take everything with a grain of salt. The first
step to resisting marketing is to recognize marketing when you see it. Don’t
Bill Gates retires
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates officially stepped back from his lead
role in the company last week to concentrate his energies on donating billions
of dollars to charities and non-profits. It’s a classy way to end a career that
changed the world.
While not always popular and often accused of stealing ideas
from others, Microsoft rose to power in such a way that they made computing
affordable to the masses, focusing on creating an operating system and software
that worked with third-party computers instead of selling the hardware
themselves. As a result, about 95 per cent of the computers around the world
Gates also entered the computing fray at a time when a computer
was both its hardware and software, similar to the Apple approach. Two
different systems could not run the same software, and could barely talk to
By aggressively knocking off its competitors, Microsoft came
close to achieving a universal standard for writing code and developing
software, a tactic that made computing what it is today. Having a single
operating system made computing accessible and affordable for the masses.
It hasn’t always been a smooth road for Microsoft or Gates, but without Gates the road might never have existed in the first place. Whether we knew it or not, we were all along for the ride.