Stop Tweeting Sh%! and Buy This

by Anita Schillhorn van Veen

14 September 2011

They say art imitates life, but so does advertising. What does that mean when we live our lives online?

Advertising is everywhere you look. Between billboards and bus ads, television shows and for New Yorkers,Times Square, advertising has a full grip on our landscape, especially in cities. And of course online even more so – not only do brands have websites and online ads, they buy search terms, pay tweeters and so much more.

The interesting thing about advertising is that it often reflects human behavior. The goal of an ad is to resonate with the person who sees the ad enough that the person wants to pay money for the product or service being advertised. Given that the average American spent over 30 hours a month online in 2010, it makes sense that ads reference online behavior – even if they’re not online.

Manhattan’s famous High Line Park is an elevated train track reinvented for city leisure-seekers. Couples, tourists and families slow their pace to enjoy the native grasses tucked into the Diller & Scofidio designed park walkways and benches, and stop to admire the views of the Hudson River between tall glassy buildings. Advertisers have taken advantage of this new audience with bold billboards that before were barely seen by drivers chugging towards the Lincoln Tunnel.

Manhattan Mini Storage, a local storage facility that has made its name with cheeky advertising, reaches out to High Line strollers with this message:

“Stop tweeting
weird sh%!
and clean your apartment.”

New York City’s subway stations are crowded with advertising. The tiled walls host big poster ads for commuters rushing towards their trains, or, more effectively, waiting idly on the platform for their train to arrive. One of the ads for the New York lotto reads,

“If you’re
for 2% of all
traffic to online
auction sites
but haven’t
bought anything,
you’re ready.”

What these offline ads conjure is a world where tweeting, stalking auction sites, and understanding web analytics is common knowledge.

The first ad touches on the millennial tension of time management – with an online reputation to uphold, how do we find the time to do the everyday? The second opened a line of questioning for me.  I’ve had to be knee-deep in traffic analytics for various web projects, and thought that this was fairly sophisticated language for an advertisement to lob at the average city subway commuter, whether it be a fashionista trekking two stops between work and cocktails or an immigrant commuting in two hours from deep Queens.

I asked a random assortment of acquaintances and friends who aren’t in the business of the internet, and found that a surprising number of them got the traffic data reference. They asked nuanced questions about traffic sources and drivers, poking holes in the ad that I hadn’t even considered. With everyone capable of writing blogs, tweets and making content in other ways, the sophistication around measuring the impact of content has risen, as well.

The level of effort it takes to read the offline ad world is ratcheting up, as the lines between our online and offline selves are being blurred out.

Topics: advertising | twitter | web
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