If You’re in Marketing, Kill Yourself


I found this lovely headline on social media, spewed forth by someone – probably an engineer – who hasn’t been convinced by the message of this blog: that marketing can help society and marketing professionals can create value for society.

The outburst was in response to a new marketing application: train windows that talk. If you’re riding the metro and you lean against a window, advertising – about insurance, detergent or whatever – can now be delivered directly to your brain. The advertising agency BBDO created this new application, known as Sky Deutschland. Tired commuters who lean their head against a window receive vibrations that are translated by the brain into sound – a voice inside their head that no one else can hear. Talking windows.

This technology – also found in Google Glass – could be used to pipe music, public-transit information, weather forecasts and, of course, advertising directly into commuters’ brains. This development was foretold not by Orwell but by Professor Farnsworth of Futurama: “It’s very simple. The ad gets into your brain.”

The technology is out there, and marketers must now decide how to apply it. It’s a technology suited to sensory marketing. The sense of sight is relatively simple; we can identify around 200 different colours, whereas the sense of smell can distinguish up to 10,000 aromas. We know that the sense of hearing brings emotions into perception. Even as adults, our brains react to sounds we first heard in the womb. In one study, when people were asked to describe an emotional experience, 96% recalled hearing a song (compared to 70% who mentioned some sort of sexual activity).

The list of potential social-marketing applications for talking windows is already growing: fundraising, public-health messages, campaigns against antisocial behaviours. But to paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, when faced with a horde of velociraptors: scientists have been so busy developing technology that they haven’t stopped to think about whether they should. God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers. And engineers are the death of marketers.

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