Friday, January 9, 2009

October 2005: 24/7

Advertising: I got into the elevator in our office building one Monday this past September. I noticed that “they” had installed a small TV screen in each car. I was curious to see what these screens would be used for. I was assuming that these screens would be used to broadcast company news, information, stock price and such. Went the system went live, I realize that I had guessed wrong.

These little screens were part of something called the Captivate Network ( The Captivate Network is a Gannett enterprise. Gannett also brings us the USA Today newspaper. The Captivate website proudly proclaims that they bring news, information, and advertising to 1.9 million hard to reach business professionals. “We deliver quality digital advertising and programming to a captive audience of more that 1.9 million educated, affluent consumers in the elevators of premier office towers across North America.”

I was offended by the intrusion during my 30 second elevator up or down. I was offended before I perused the Captivate website. I was a bit more offended when they actually used the words “captive audience.” They claim to reach more executives than Forbes. I am sure they do. They have 5,800 screens across North America.

Maybe I am too old, I am after all “the other side of fifty.” I found this benign little screen that is always half content and half advertising a huge intrusion. The elevator is a bit of quiet time when I am alone and a time to exchange pleasantries when in the company of others. Do I really need to know the weather report and be subjected to Hummer ads when in the elevator?

I love the name: Captivate. I truly feel captive. Thankfully, the network is only video, no audio. I routinely position myself in the corner of the elevator where the obtrusive little screen is hardest to see. I feel like the protagonist, Winston Smith, in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, huddled in the corner of his room trying to avoid the prying video eye of Big Brother while he scribbled his thoughts, subversive to the state. Probably in a short time I will be used to the Captivate screen, not caring anymore and thus open, subliminally, to the barrage of advertising and never fully understanding why I have a sudden desire to book all my travel on Travelocity.

Several years ago, they built a North Entrance to Grand Central Terminal. I use the entrance at 48th Street and Park Avenue, a mere block and half from my office. From there, via a long three to four block walk underground, one has access to all the gates of the Grand Central. It is a great short cut to the trains that is even more convenient in foul weather.

The underground passageway is kind of stark. There are lots of beige tiles and beige painted plaster board on the walls. The floor is a beige-ish terrazzo and the ceiling is simply off white panels and fluorescent lights. To decorate the passageways, artwork has been added. The route I take has been adorned with mosaics and cast wall decorations of the countries and peoples of Asia. The are pleasant and well done pieces.

About a year after the opening of the North Entrance, they began what I considered a bothersome trend: advertisements. I am not talking about posters or lightboxes. I am talking about mini, 4’x15’, billboards that are glued right to the walls. If that were not enough, smaller versions, 5’x5’, of the same ads are affixed to the floors at both ends of the escalators. Yes, that is right advertising on the floor. The ads, all dedicated toone company or product, are up for 2-3 weeks, about the time it takes for the floor ads to get really scuffed up and dirty. The current ads are for a high end Bulgari watch, ostentatious in size with lots of dials and buttons: the Assioma. The ads previous to the Assioma were for a new TV show based on Chris Rock’s childhood. The ads all seem to be for television shows or high end consumer goods.

The wall ads surprised but did not bother me. I was truly mystified and taken aback by the floor ads. Why floor ads? Leave the ceilings and floors alone. We have enough advertisements. I also couldn’t understand how product managers would allow their product images, their creative babies, to be trampled over by hoards of commuters. They get dirty. The product image is basically defaced. But then, I never have fully understood marketing and the people who make a living doing it.

I must admit that there was one ad that I appreciated. It was for J’Adore, a perfume by Christian Dior. The ad feature the Estonian supermodel Carmen Kass where she appeared to be waist deep in a pool of gold.

Ads have even made their way onto taxi cabs. Why not? There are taxis aplenty in Manhattan. The taxis have been outfitted with light box or light marquis on the roof of the cabs. The ones that seems to stick in my mind are those sponsored by ESPN. These light boxes flash scores for various events. Do I really need to know or be reminded that the NJ Devils beat the Boston Bruins 3-0 in last night’s game? Does anyone that has a little bit of interest in NY baseball not already know the score of the most recent Yankees and Angels game?

Some one obviously conceptualized these taxi devices, had them made, and somehow sold ESPN on the concept. How did they calculate the return on that investment? I am quite certain the ROI on this baby is simply immeasurable.

These new horizons in advertising are done simply because they can be. The technology is there. Advertisers must be convinced these ads are reaching a specific demographic, consistently.

It is odd that I am complaining about excessive and intrusive advertising. I work for a consumer products company. Advertising is a key business driver and I certainly understand the importance of it. Still, I wish they had not started considering elevator cars and hallway floors as advertising opportunities. I certainly hope they stop there. I am, sadly, convinced that this trend will continue and will no doubt be surprised an offended further by whatever the next level of intrusion will be.

Television: Beyond advertising, we are bombarded with 24/7 television and media. When I grew up in Detroit, we had five television stations, period. We had the three major networks and a public television on UHF. We had the bonus of a fifth station in Detroit. With Windsor, Ontario just across the river, we were able to receive the Canadian Broadcasting Network as well. We had five whole channels and that is you were lucky, wealthy, or techie enough to have a UHF converter. We had one TV in the house and it was black and white with no remote.

We also experienced test patterns. Test patterns were the graphic a station would broadcast when they were not on the air. Yes, for those of you who do not know or cannot remember, those five television stations did not broadcast around the clock. There was no 24/7.

I had actual forgotten this fact until in 2003 when I was watching a special on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. The show I was watching showed footage of Walter Cronkite reflecting on the events of that sad and shocking day. Cronkite was pointed out that it was 11:40 pm and they had stayed on the air 10 minutes past their normal broadcast day because of the gravity of the events.

It is amazing that we now have hundreds of channels, depending on the size of your cable or satellite bill. They all run 24/7 even if infomercials have replaced test patterns in the wee hours of the morning on the less popular networks. Funny though, even with hundreds of channels the same five channel phenomena is still experienced with surprising regularity. After flipping through five channels in the bygone era or 500 hundred channels today, one can still say, “There’s nothing on.” The difference is that channel surfing through hundreds of channels can take up most of an evening. Jerry Seinfeld noted once on his show when commenting on the male propensity for channel surfing. “We don’t want to watch TV; we want to watch whatever else is on TV.” This results in an endless search to find just the right thing to watch for the next 30 seconds. While this may be bothersome to whoever is not controlling the remote control or clicker, there is really nothing to worry about. Most households have more TVs than inhabitants these days. Everyone can have their own TV and clicker. If this weren’t enough, the new iPods can now download and play personal video.

Americans watch an average of four hours of TV a day. I wonder how accurate this statistic is. Based on me, a personal sample of one, the TV may be on for four hours but I am not necessarily watching it. I tend to be multi-tasking. I am watching CBS Sunday morning while I am typing this letter. Hey, I wonder if a lack of total focus accounts for the typos and grammatical errors in these e-letters.

But, TV is good. It broadcasts the Three Stooges and University of Michigan Football. Hmmm…every Three Stooges episode, just Curly’s and Shemp’s mind you, on my iPod. That will do wonders for my productivity!

Cell Phones: Everyone loves cell phones and loves to complain about them. I am no different. They are really handy whenever we need and use them and a major pain when others use them in our presence.

We all have access to phones: cell phones and home phones. We can e-mail and text message from phones and Blackberries. We can constantly be in touch. We can be in touch with family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, associates, telemarketers, and spammers, all around the world via this technology. The bad thing, there is no down time, except for sleep. However for good sleep, you have to remember to turn your phone off.

I have been on the train platform seeing people talking on their cell phones at 5:30 am. Who are they talking too? I assume, and hope, they are Wall Street types buying, selling, and trading with their European or Asian offices. But in eavesdropping (only for sociological research for this e-letter) the conversations do not sound like high powered business. Recently, at this early hour, I overheard, “Oh did I wake you up? Oh, I am sorry. Call me later when you get up?” Very funny.

Often at the airport, you hear conversations like, “Hey, it’s me… I am at the airport… just waiting… yeah, 7:45… sure… ok…. No, but I’ll try.” It is amazing how these conversations are all the same no matter whether they are in English, Spanish or Armenian. There is a lot of talking going on, mostly about nothing.

Many states have passed laws limiting the use of cell phones while driving. One has to have a hands free system or cell phone use is prohibited. It is not so much the talking while driving that is a problem, research has actually shown that the very act of having ones hand to ones ear, like we do when talking on a cell phone, diverts ones attention from other tasks… like driving. It reminds me of the old joke:What is worse a drunk driver or a driver talking on his cell phone? The driver on the cell phone is much worse. The drunk driver is really trying to drive.

I read somewhere that we may soon be able to use cell phones and access the internet on airplanes. Planes are one of the last remaining sanctuaries from being connected 24/7. None of my colleagues I have polled like this idea. But, we will all use our phones and laptops on airplanes if allowed. We cannot help ourselves.

On the train, cell phone use is at extremes. Some people can speak on the phone and you cannot even hear them. Their conversations are short and usually just to inform someone what train they are on for either a pick-up or dinner plans. Others are incredibly loud and carry on long conversations. I have seen fellow passengers crumple up paper and throw it at these loud talkers. It can be quite funny.

Wrap-up: We live in a 24/7 world. Technology has enabled an unprecedented level of connectivity and information. It is, of course, a two edged sword. It frees us and chains us at the same time. I love it. I hate it.

There were so many other facets of these topics I could have written about e.g. cell phones ringing at funerals and concerts. I am sure I will cover them in some future letter. I look forward to hearing your take on these topics both positive and negative.

Also, let me know if I should begin to accept advertising in this e-letter, you know, for tasteful, high quality products like Ginsu Knives, Unbelievably Quick Weight Loss or Hair restoration products, Ronco and As Seen on TV products, and non-prescription ED products that really work.*

Here is an example. Ron… this one is on me. You will have to pay next time.

Inside-the-shell Egg Scrambler

Scrambles the egg RIGHT IN THE SHELL! No need to stir the eggs for French toast and omelets. Perfectly blends an egg inside the shell in seconds. Just crack the eggs and you'll have even and no-lump coating around fried foods like Fried Chicken. Or boil the eggs for hard-boiled eggs with no yolk! Just $19.95

*Just Kidding

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