Friday, April 27, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Marketers Focus the Audio Spotlight on Consumers

The other day, The Boston Globe had an article by Jenn Abelson on something called an "audio spotlight device," from Holosonic Research Labs in Watertown, Massachusetts. Now, I'm almost automatically behind anything that's Made in Massachusetts. And I do love the use of screen beans, a personal favorite, on their home page. But from the applications mentioned in Abelson's article, I think we need "audio spotlight devices" as much as we need another hole in our heads.

The technology "sends sound in a narrow beam, just like light, making it possible to direct messages right into consumers' ears while they shop or sit in waiting rooms....[The device] has been used to hawk everything from cereals in supermarket aisles to glasses at doctor's offices. The messages are often quick and targeted -- and a little creepy to the uninitiated.

Well, I can imagine the messages being a little creepy to the initiated, as well.

In one use that Abelson describes, the spotlight was used to advertise a murder mystery show on Court TV. In the mystery book section of some bookstores, browsers had a whispering voice beamed at them that asked, "Do you ever think about murder?"

Easy to see the first lawsuit once someone on the border of being fully unhinged has a message beamed in his ear.

'Murder? Say, I hadn't really considered it, but now that God is whispering it in my ear. It's as if God is telling me something, isn't it? And, hey, when the Big Guy speaks, you gotta listen.'

According to the article, this technology is being used overseas. (Warning: stay out of Istanbul and Madrid airports and Fiat showrooms.) And a number of American consumer goods companies and retailers are evaluating it.

The audio spotlight will let marketers single out individual shoppers for special treatment. No more blaring "Gallon Jugs of Tide on special in aisle 3". Now messaging will be more selective. "You there, yes you, the one in the stained sweatshirt who just put the Teddy's peanut butter in your cart. You can get that stain out with Tide. Proceed at once to aisle 3."

Or, as you walk by certain products, you could be beamed info on it. Starkist is probably already considering resurrecting Charlie the Tuna to let us know how nutritional it is - and, of course, what good taste it has. Oy!

The thought of all those product icons talking to you. Snap, Crackle, and Pop; Speedy AlkaSeltzer; Mr. Clean; the Jolly Green Giant; the woman from those cheesy Mento's ads. What a nightmare! (I sincerely hope that Mr. Whipple is retired.)

I'm sure that advertisers will also be lining up seductive voice-over folks, too.

I might be able to resist the Jolly Green Giant telling me to buy three cans of Le Seur peas, but what if Martin Sheen is telling me to load up on Miracle Whip. (Yuck.) Will I be able to resist that siren call. What if Paul Newman starts directing me to buy his dressings? (Save your breath, Paul, I already do.)

The genius behind Holosonics founded the company while he was studying for his doctorate at MIT. Joseph Pompei believes that:

"It's a device that preserves the quiet. There's so much going on, it's sometimes an audio assault. This is like surround silence."

Well, one man's 'surround silence' is another woman's 'invasion of the sanity snatchers.'

I really hope that this one lets you opt out.

As with oh so many technologies, however, there are also some reasonable uses.

The MFA [Boston's Museum of Fine Arts] installed four audio spotlight disks as part of the recent exhibit, "Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006." Each designer's collection had its soundtrack playing in its own zone, but the technology ensured music from the Chanel collection did not cross over to Dior's.

I can also see that this sort of technology would be a big boon at tradeshows. If you've ever worked the booth opposite the one that has a carnival barker going non-stop, you'll know what I mean. Also in those multi-plex movie theaters with the rice-paper walls through which you can hear the bang-bang and car chases from the next film over.

And there are home uses: pinpointing music or TV so that one person's pleasure doesn't have to become your pain. As someone whose husband keeps the television on as background news (a steady state of financial news, "24", and basketball games from the Celtics' glory days), I can easily see the benefits of this type of application.

But product specific messages beamed at me while I shop? Turn-off, tune-out. Not even the voice of Martin Sheen.


And a tip of the Red Sox cap she gave me to my sister Trish who pointed this article out to me. She is particularly disturbed at the thought of a cereal box talking to her. Who can blame her? Moms are already being marketed to in the cereal aisle by their kids.


Mark Cahill said...

Why yes, by all means they should whisper in my ear. After all, I don't have nearly enough intrusive advertising in my life.

I'm just waiting for them to implant the chip in my brain now.


Anonymous said...

With respect to audio spotlight:

Hello my name is Jason Shipley, a member of the student union at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. We have been having problems with several fraternity's here on campus and in our dormitories. We regret to announce that there have been several assaults largely due to the misuse of this device “audio spotlight“. The student union is trying to aid police in spreading awareness about harassment crimes involving "keeping people up at night" on purpose with this device and sabotage of research grants and scholarships, from the electrical engineering departments in particular. A similar version of this device was set up in conjunction with surveillance cameras, and was used to harass several students, which eventually lead to beatings on campus. The campus police eventually caught these students and appropriate action is being taken against them. We wish to enlist your help in contacting campus police and creating awareness about similar crimes.

Anonymous said...

Various ways to hurt someone (possibly even kill someone) with audio spotlight, from a victim's perspective.

Notice how these crimes coexist with "litte" crimes to help hide a semi-expensive murder using audio spotlight, and a
gang of people with not much else to do, many trianed in psychology, and acting (computer hacking and spyware too)

1. Point the device out your 2 story window and call people racial names, and make reference to their actual
surroundings, and clothing, to make it more realistic. This can be used in and around drug dealers to create violence. An introduction can even be given to a group of street people about another, simply by transmitting "John has on the bergendy jacket" (substitute the victims actual name) to introduce the victim to a pack of well beaten up homless drug addicts. You may increase the probablity of getting this person beat up or even shot. These drug dealers could be angered further by suggesting to them (still pointing it down from window ledges, working in groups, working with cell phones) that each other had found their lost drugs on the ground or stolen their drugs. It may surprise you how easily some of these people are angered in run down homless areas, espiecally when they have been kept all night, by the device in question, if the rooftops, or 2nd story windows are available). Much smaller versions of this are most liekly available, a person could even "hide out" in the bushes and do this to someone, or from a parked car) if they were "skilled" enough, while they slep outside on a parkbench, for example)

2. Pointing at the window. Pointing the device at the window (if you can get a clear and "hard to notice" shot at the window)
can keep a person up for weeks at a time (unless they find good enough ear plugs). This can lead to job loss, which in turn can lead you to living in a run down , drug infested area, which can bring you closer to being murdered with audio spotlight.

3. Moving in beside someone - The sound can be cast through holes in the walls. If you really want to kill someone with audio spotlight, and they live in an apartment, you may have an easier time, makeing someones apartment hellish for them with psychological abuse, in front of mirrors and in the bathrooms is a good place to try to break someone with psychological abuse. It is also true that this sound reflects, so if you have a decent scemeatic of the house (upstairs apartment) you can point the sound from the hole (that must be disguised, in many cases) to bouce around "somewhat". video survielance
can also be done through the hole, and in turn make the psycholigcal abuse more effective. Hidding the hole is most likely easiest in the corner of the cieling, or behind anything that patrudes out from the wall. All of these variables narrow down the possibility of killing someone with audio spotlight. Meaning never touching them psysically.

4. Taking over the WORKPLACE is very difficult, may involve a break in (or a dress up repairman scam), and a device placed into a high corner, at the right angle for above cubbie hole walls, and possibly discuised as something else, like a "wierd" survielance camera with a radar like back (when their tech is more low tech). Make sure to look in the work place for obvious looking "radar" shapes. In a large "high tech" office, this may just fit in normally and go unnoticed. Often a rumor could be spread through the office about what it was for, but most liely this radar is going to have no owner, and the detachment of it's transmitter, will be an early warning sign for them, becuase the handshaking signal will be broken.

5. Moving violent homelss people to an area (another different run down area) may, sickly enough be accomplishable with a "bread crumbs" trail of drugs, like crack cocaine, and a couple of dress ups, like crack heads, in which the rumor is spread to them that the other "fake homless people" that lived on the other coner or location were always dropping all kinds of crack. This could be even done through a gang member junkie , paid to go do drugs with the more violent junkies, supplying him/her with the drugs to make friends, and lieing to them telling them that there was a reason to move to a location , for example, drugs were found on the ground often there. This would be made real by dropping real drugs, or hits of crack there) to try to coax a set of violent druggies to a certain location, in which the murder victim lived. Then you can execute the audio spotlight crimes.

6. Taking over a speaker in a radio could most liekly fit a version of the "audio spotlight" if shelf speakers were in a room, but were not often used. A an attached radio
or stereo could be broken, by a break in, and the audiospotlight "mini" placed into the old speaker.