File-sharing decoys as ads

by Rob Horning

19 October 2006


Yesterday The Wall Street Journal reported on a new record-industry ploy to make file sharing work in their favor by flooding LimeWire, et. al., with dummy decoy files that are actually ads. You search for Audioslave or Dashboard Confessional (why you would do this, frankly, I don’t know) and you end up with advertisements and possibly teasers to spread the advertising “virally” in order to unlock the song you wanted in the first place. Or it’s a rare two-for-one treat for the would-be pirate who thought he was getting the new Jay-Z tracks; not only does he get something bogus, he also gets an ad cajoling him to drink Coca-Cola.

I’m not sure why Coke would want to associate itself with such a negative experience for the target audience. Wouldn’t the person who recieves this particular advertising message think, “Fuck you, Coca-Cola, and the bullshit DRM you rode in on”? Is the faith in the razzle-dazzle of new technologies for delivering ads so great that companies fail to imagine the more mundane matters of context? (Maybe they crossed this line long ago when they started running cheerful liquor ads alongside pictures of starving and maimed children in news magazines—which reminds me of my favorite moment in the TV version of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, when he shows of few of these juxtapositions and declares that Western culture had officially gone insane.)

It was only a matter of time before ads rode to the rescue of intellectual-property thieves. Our society couldn’t go on having more and more consumers unrepentantly embracing criminality. Something had to change to reincorporate them. It’s impossible to remain an outlaw once ads find you—what the presence of ads proves is that your deviousness has already been expected and accounted for—thereby neutralizing it. For a while, with its futile lawsuits against its own customers, it seemed the record industry was going the way of the war on drugs, but this latest turn makes much more sense. There’s a nice symmetry to ads and file-sharing; you steal someone else’s intellectual property, ads steal some of your intellect right back.

Anyway, the further blurring of ads and content in the pop-music realm is reminiscent of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s pioneering effort in the 1980s, when the band put ads between the songs on their album Flaunt It (featuring “Love Missile F1-11”) This idea, needless to say, did not catch on—maybe foregrounding the band’s crass cynicism wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe people, even in the 1980s, didn’t find that kind of hollow greed appealing. You didn’t have that vicarious pull that pop music typically provides; you didn’t think, Gee, I wish I could be a smug, hack, makeup-wearing phony who revels in commercialism and played-out disco beats. But perhaps the time for ads merged with music files has come. SSS probably wasn’t wrong about ads and pop songs being essentially interchangable; they were prescient in predicting their growing symbiosis. Perhaps we’re now ready for product placements within pop songs: Just imagine a R&B diva getting all melismatic with brand names: “Aaaa-berr-cro-oh-oh-ah-ah-ohm-bie-eee-aye-eee!”.

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