Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Magnum. Concealed Weapon?

I recently stumbled across this very interesting ad. After experiencing the thrill of the "Pleasure Hunt", I thought I'd write a few words about the trend of games and marketing.

While listening to an episode of CBC Radio's Spark, I learned that it is becoming increasingly more popular for people in the promotion industry to lead up to the release of games and movies with intense puzzles and adventures. What's truly fascinating is that they generally tend to get more and more realistic and more and more involving, often to the point where contestants are getting into trouble in order to win a contest or find some key information.

A good case is Dr. Pepper's 2007 stunt in Boston, a story which I am borrowing from Terry O'Reilly's Age of Persuasion. A treasure hunt was launched with a grand prize of a gold coin worth $10 000. Unfortunately, the planners chose an ancient burial ground as the hiding place, causing much controversy and leading eventually to the event being cancelled.

This is a good example of what has been called "guerrilla marketing". O'Reilly identifies this phenomenon as having four key components:

1) garners attention
2) doesn't involve traditional media
3) isn't an ad
4) would be considered unconventional

Although we should be careful when talking about this, because we can take other stunts, like the original Terry Fox Marathon of Hope and say it conforms to this model. A good question to ask is whether or not there are key differences between campaigns that are for raising money for charity, advertising a product, or performing a public service announcement.

Obviously this isn't entirely new. It is also obvious that this is something that is going to continue to evolve as the media it uses changes. One of my favourite authors, Naomi Klein, writes that guerrilla marketing is part of an intensifying trend of brands to push the envelope ever further.

So let's get back to the Magnum advert to find out exactly makes it so powerful?

The first element that I will point to is the notion of challenge and high score. This instantaneously adds a new dimension. Rather than watching, you are engaging with, the media. Moreover, you are evaluated at the end and given the choice to try again or invite your friends. Not only will the average person who completes the task likely opt to better their score, they are more than likely to challenge a someone they know, thus exposing the advertisement to new eyes.

Another interesting component is that by interacting with the ad, the audience is experiencing something called synaesthesia - a condition where one sense elicits others. Play generally makes people remember and learn better than by watching and listening. This kinaesthetic experience means that the audience has a deeper and potentially longer lasting bond with the content, most likely far higher than through watching a commercial.

Finally, since we are living in a society awash in ads, this game allows for a seed to be planted that can be reaped later. After playing the "Pleasure Hunt", I have been much more aware of ads I see elsewhere for Magnum, meaning that I have now attached an experience, however trivial, with that product. And that is something invaluable for the producers of the product and marketing I've consumed.

Ultimately, we have to remember that the great Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan remarked that "advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century".

Monday, 4 July 2011


I have been really interested lately in commercials for a new television show that is supposed to premier this fall. Person of Interest, which will be broadcast by CBS on Thursdays, is about surveillance of the public by the state.

While I would certainly agree that there is an unprecedented amount of surveillance in our society today, I would have to question the sentiment that monitoring is malevolent. In fact, the City of London has recently seen the addition of an extensive closed-circuit television system to its already substantial network of surveillance equipment. While many have characterised this move as fashioned after Big Brother, I think it is important to consider the benefits of surveillance while in public, such as providing evidence in crimes. However, this surveillance is by no means the only undertaken by the state. There is a variety of ways in which authorities surveille the populace.

What is more interesting is the private/public partnership going on. There is no central bureaucracy overseeing the cameras - that work is contracted out to private firms. Of course, there isn't much of an impetus for these private firms to do anything other than to watch over the streets. But what about other corporations and surveillance?

I think that I speak for everyone when I remark that it's absolutely awesome when you start typing in Google and it knows what you are looking for. It's almost like Google is your best friend - someone who knows you so well that he or she can finish your sentences. Well, the way it can actually tell what you want is because Google is actually surveilling you. Googlisation is a term I came across when listening to CBC Radio's Spark a few weeks ago. Google not only plays the role of selecting what comes up when we start typing, but it also chooses what to give you when the list comes up. It collects this information by tracking what we do as individuals and matching the trends with other people from our region and who have similar interests. Of course it is convenient and attractive - but perhaps so much so that it is actually problematic.

What are the effects of Googlisation? Siva Vaidhyanathan provides what he calls an "unquestioning trust in Google", a sense that it plays a mystical role in our life. This happens to the point where we often fail to ask "hard questions" about what information is given to us and, more importantly, what information is omitted. He talks about how Google satisfied our perceived needs too well - a problem particularly when it comes to using it to find information. Remember, Google is giving you information for what it thinks you want, but not necessarily what you need. What really troubles me is how often people use Google for serious questions, such as climate change.

With respect to privacy, many of you may be surprised to hear that Google's philosophy is that "we ask you to give up a little bit of your privacy for a better user experience". Vaidhyanathan critiques this by stating that privacy is not a measurable currency that we can give up to trade for convenience.

Of course I don't want to be too hard of Google. In fact, it is one of the most useful organisations on the web, one that is used by virtually everyone around the world. What I aim to achieve in this post is not to say "don't use Google", but to implore people to use it more carefully. I know that I have in the past few weeks. The internet is a fascinating place, but we have to keep in mind that it is slowly being devoured by corporations. While Google's actions may surprise you, remember that their services are free and that they do make the internet a pretty great place - Youtube, my email, and this blog are all powered by Google.

I hope that you are armed so that the next time someone complains about the state acting like Big Brother you can tell them that corporations do it as well. It's really up to you to decide which is worse: the City of London or Google for watching your every move.