Somebody’s Watching You

How well does your friendly neighborhood advertiser know you? Rockwell may have been more than a cheesy eighties one-hit-wonder after all. Perhaps he was a true soothsayer instead of just a less-famous, Jackson family in-law.

Think about it. Corporations and their advertisers process millions of pieces of data and sales information every day just to figure out what you buy, when you buy and why you buy. They know how much time you spend in the average store and how much cash goes towards Kraft Singles every week. There is precious little that is not tracked, analyzed and utilized.

Think I’m kidding? Next time you go into a store like Home Depot or Costco look around and take note of the other faces entering the store with you. You’ll be shocked to see the same ones, more or less, leaving at about the same time you are. The stores know exactly how long the average visit lasts. As unique as we like to think we are, in truth most of us are quite boring creatures showcasing our ever more predictable habits.

And advertisers would be complete morons not to exploit this.

My favourite example is Toyota. This bunch is moving cars like Timmy’s pours coffee on a Monday morning. Toyota is as close to ruling the automotive world as anyone has ever been and they’ve done it with hard work and good products.

And some pretty cagey advertising.

I’m sure you remember this ad campaign. They still air it every now and again. It has the dad sitting on the front porch of the house with his daughter. He tosses out a line. “So, your mother tells me you think you’re in love.”

The daughter answers yes.

Dad then asks if this is the same as all the others, making clear his automatic, and it would seem, well-founded disdain for all her past choices. As a bonus, he’s also making it quite obvious that he believes this one to be no different.

Suddenly, a sharp little Toyota screeches to a stop in front of the house. Dad takes one look, stands up and says “I like him” offering his instant seal of approval based on nothing more than seeing a sensible and practical auto choice displayed before him.

And here is where it gets mighty interesting.

There are at least three versions of this ad, though I am convinced many more exist. In one version, after daddy’s gone, ditzy daughter opens the car door and gets in to greet her geeky, nerdy-looking new love. Hardly daddy’s favourite, but proving that sensibility of vehicular choice can successfully sucker dear old dad is a winner. But it gets better. Another version of the ad shows her get in the car and kiss a giant, scary looking biker dude. Again, dear old dad played for a fool. In a third one, she gets into the car and smiles at the pretty girl who is driving, just before leaning over and planting a long, deep and wet kiss on her lips. Well hello, it would seem we’ve got some Toyota sponsored lesbian lovin’ in prime time no less. Or do we?

I’m betting you probably didn’t see all those ads. At best, you might have seen only two of them. The girl-girl ad would more than likely have been missed

You see, Toyota is so conscious and aware of your TV habits that they position each of these ads for different show blocks, different times and different channels. The hard edged biker one ran during sporting events or other shows where tough guys (or boys that think they are) sit watching. The nerdy, non-threatening guy ad aired during more family and female-centric shows. The edgy girlfriend ad aired specifically on arts channels and during more urban and shall we say sophisticated shows – okay, it was “Trailer Park Boys” on Showcase – but the point is they weren’t particularly worried about the wrong folks seeing the wrong ad. They had their targets lined up and they shot at each one successfully, without having to build totally different ads to do it. The simplicity is near mesmerizing, even while the sheer deviousness of it remains rather frightening.

Pay attention to your TV routines if you can. Advertisers do. You’d be amazed at how predictable you really are. Just for fun, vary it a bit and see what happens. You might find yourself seeing some ads you never even knew existed. It’s a good way to combat such precision ad attacks.

Alternatively, some find the realization they are being watched so paralyzing that schizophrenic paranoia sets in, causing one to lock all the doors, pull the shades, fashion a helmet out of tin foil and survive the rest of days drinking from the hot water heater and harvesting toenail clippings for protein.

I wonder what kind of ads Toyota has planned for when I reach that stage?

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