Life in the Box: Zombie Eyeballs


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Mail-in, mail-out. That’s the scene every day at our house after the distinctive rumbling diesel engine of our mail truck fades down the block, and one of us traipses the 23 steps out to the curb and back. Ninety five percent of the blessed little envelopes are asking for us to send or spend money. Let me count the ways… or rather, I don’t need to because you all have the same mail as I do.

I’ve been on both sides of advertising activities. I started my career producing ads for radio and television, and my voice has begged for your attention in ever so many ways. I’ve been on the promotions team in public television and have struggled to pop my message out from the herd to be heard.

Advertising classes tell us to “sell the sizzle” and “grab the eyeballs (or hearts or other body parts)” and take a “multi-platform approach.” Sounds a little like a gruesome train ride for zombies. But it is a serious science of human behavior with intense impact on the finances of those creating ads and those purchasing them. flowr-zombie-sm

The other side of the tracks, for me, is being the person who receives ads (okay, is barraged by them) and makes consumer choices. I know too much about ads to be a total zombie about them. I always assess, think about the strategies used and harp about spelling and targeting errors. I can’t tune them out.

Some people actually don’t mind ads. Some of my friends find them humorous, entertaining, or at worst, just a noise to ignore. Unfortunately those of us who wish to choose not to consume ads have lost that battle. No choice. Even with the opt-outs and no-call-lists and fast-forwarding on Tivo, there is no way to live in America without advertising.

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Back to zombies… love or hate ‘em, they are us. We are the message-barraged zombies. We trudge through our lives hungry and forlorn and wishing for real live food, but all we get are hundreds of sizzles and no real brain-or-body-enhancing bites. What if each of those messages taught us something? We’d be so smart by now! Nope–all we learn is that if we spend money we’ll be happier or sexier or something-er. And ads are soaking into all our activities.

For instance, when I’m playing solitaire on my tablet. Choose a “winning game” and you will get an ad. I try my best to not look at the ad (which is silent because I’ve muted my device) and start at the “x” in the corner or the countdown to when the little video can be closed. Then I have to hit “enter” a few times, different for different types of ads. And if I accidentally hit the wrong part of the screen, I have to wait endlessly as my browser opens up and their web page loads. I swear a lot. All I wanted to do was have a little stream-of-conscious game to get away from it all.

When I do sneak a peek at the ad, I’m mortified to discover ads for age-appropriate travel and for certain products I’ve googled—from my laptop, not my tablet.

From an advertising perspective, this is genius! From a private citizen’s perspective, I gotta say that targeted messaging is creepy. I don’t want to be a zombie, a predictable blip on someone’s accounting chart. I don’t like the same ads popping up on my email and my tablet and in my mailbox. That makes them stick in my brain, and my brain is precious to me. And, for anyone trying to protect their privacy, it’s evidence that all advertisers “know where you live.” made-you-look-sm

I’ve seen the advertising cloud from both sides, now. It’s got logos, spies, and cookie monsters throughout. There are no hiding places inside or outside. I wish I didn’t feel so powerless about that. But if I’m going to be barraged, I guess the targeted ads might occasionally deliver discount coupons for things I actually might buy or support. If only I could avoid everything else. The constant barrage is distracting, not enriching my life.

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Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process both inside and outside the box.