The Future of Advertising

by Joe Lavin --

We are now at the dawn of a new information age, and as you all know 
this means one thing. More damn commercials. Yes, the 21st Century 
(Sponsored in part by McDonald's. Have you had your break today?) is 
almost here, and as we get ready for it, we will no doubt be pummeled by 
more and more advertising. 

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. I don't really hate advertising. 
Usually, it's harmless, and if I don't like it, I can just ignore it. But the 
future of advertising is starting to scare me. 

A while back, there was a Frontline documentary on PBS about 
advertising in the information age. It was quite fascinating, and I was 
able to learn many things, including (1) the fact that advertisers are now 
able to track many of your purchases, (2) the fact that advertisers can 
use this information to target advertising to you specifically, and (3) the 
fact that Holy @#$$! I was watching PBS. Wow! There really must have 
been nothing good on TV. 

George Orwell apparently had it wrong. Big Brother is not the 
government. He's an advertising agency, and sometime around 2057 
when the President of Time Warner Disney AT&T Microsoft is elected 
to become the President of the United States as well, Big Brother and the 
government will merge as one. 

Well, maybe I'm being a tad paranoid about the future. (The Future! 
Sponsored in part by Microsoft. Where do you want to go today? . . . 
Oh, actually, you can't go there. You're going here instead.) But I can't 
help being paranoid. Actually, the Frontline reporter was even more 
paranoid than I. At one point, he asked a man from Bell Atlantic about all 

"So, basically, you can track any purchase I make with this new 


"So, in other words, if last year I were to have bought an especially 
embarrassing product --"

"You mean like that Nasty Nympho Action video you bought August 

"Um, that was a hypothetical question."

"Oh, right sorry. . . . Good flick, though. Much better than that bondage 
video you rented last weekend."

"Um, could we maybe go to a commercial or something?"

"This is PBS. You don't have any."


Well, I paraphrase slightly, but the host was clearly troubled by the 
implications of the new technology. Basically, any transaction you make 
without cash has the potential to be tracked by someone somewhere. 
Whereas advertisers now attempt to target people of a specific age 
group or income bracket, in the future they will be increasingly able to 
target you. Just you. 

Companies already do this, of course. That's the whole theory behind 
direct mail marketing -- not to mention all those supermarket discount 
cards that are suddenly so prevalent.  I once heard an interview with a 
man who wrote a book about direct mail marketing. (If I were a real 
journalist, this is where I would, like, tell you the name of the book or 
something.) This author tracked his junk mail for a year. He even created 
an imaginary pregnant woman and ordered maternity clothing for her. 
Nine months later, the imaginary woman received complimentary diapers 
in the mail from another company.  The advertisers of the world are 
watching, and in the future they will only get better. 

This sounds worse than it really is. You don't have to let the powers that 
be know about all your purchases, but it will no doubt become 
increasingly more difficult not to play along. In the future, we will all 
have to face a battle between our privacy and convenience. I suspect I 
will probably choose convenience. Like everyone, I do have my 
occasional indiscretions, but I really can't imagine anyone bored enough 
to care about what I'm doing. I wish I led a scandalous life, but I simply 

Also, I have a terrible confession to make. I rather like junk mail. If it's 
boring, I just throw it away, and occasionally, such as the time when the 
previous occupant was receiving a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog, 
junk mail can be a fine wondrous thing. 

It can also be fun. I routinely get mail addressed to The Joe Lavin 
Foundation, because that's what I usually write when asked for my 
company. Once, I was especially bored and wrote "Omnipotent One" for 
my Title. Sure enough, a few months later, I received an advertisement 
addressed to:

Joe Lavin
Omnipotent One
The Joe Lavin Foundation

Next time, I'm thinking of writing "International Love Machine" as my 
title. I can't wait to read the mail I get.
Copyright 1998 by Joe Lavin

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