In the NYT piece, “What ‘Blade Runner’ Got Wrong,” Anna North writes about the worrisome developments in advertising today.
Dystopian science-fiction of the last quarter of the 20th century—and even earlier—had envisioned that advertisements would grow monstrous till they took over all public spaces.
“Blade Runner” (1982), a noir science-fiction, set in the the year 2019, features an advertisement-saturated Los Angeles, where corporations engage in noisy aerial advertising. An airship scuds across the skyline, its envelope, displaying full-color, audio-visual commercial messages, just like those we see on TV.
Similarly, in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Guy Montag is told by his young neighbor about 200-feet-long billboards. They were once ten times smaller, she explains, but as “cars started rushing by so quickly, they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last.”
Now that we’re already in that future, we realize that those fears were unfounded. It’s not the big, intrusive, outdoor advertising, but the small, stamp-size ones of the digital variety, which are more invasive and sinister.
It’s advertisement that creep along Facebook, Gmail, Pandora, and elsewhere, which we need to watch out for. And as time goes by, advertisers will get better and better at surveilling us online. Advertisements will also therefore, get more targeted, till they perhaps, call us out in a crowd by our names, as depicted in “Minority Report” (2002).
The other facet of the 21st century advertising world, so far, is that it sees us not just as passive recipients, but also as potential spokespersons for the brands, through channels like Facebook.
North quotes Dale Lately at The Baffler:
The traditional broadcast model of advertising—one-way, one-to-many, read-only—is increasingly being superseded by a vision of marketing that wants and expects consumers to spread the word themselves.
Because the world’s largest social network claims that it provides the best of both worlds—a merger of Google’s targeted advertising and TV’s mass reach—marketers are beginning to become believers in Facebook’s value as an advertising forum, and shifting more of their budgets to it from other media channels, chiefly, print and direct mail.