Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to advertising in the public sphere.
In this week’s BCM240 lecture, we discussed a number of topics which I thoroughly enjoyed looking into. We looked into public screens in public places, such as digital signage, and how advertisers have developed a strategic way to capture their audiences when they are not in their homes. A question our lecturer asked was, “Are people really being ‘hailed’ by advertising in public spaces?” My answer is yes, yes we are. And this leads me to my favorite example of all time – Times Square.
A couple of years ago, I had the lucky opportunity to travel to the United States and stay in the heart of New York. At the doorstep of my hotel was Times Square, the major commercial intersection, center of entertainment, tourist attraction and neighborhood of Manhattan. It was as colorful and illuminated as ever, even at three in the morning. It was almost exactly how I saw it in the movies. Those big, digital billboards meters above my head, flashing images of Coca Cola and promoting the latest Broadway shows. According to Travel and Leisure in 2011, 39,200,00 people visit Times Square annually, me being one of them. Not only are neon lights and digital signage entertaining and leave you starry eyed, they are solely there for the purpose of advertising. Below them are double doors into three or four story retail stores such as Forever 21 and American Apparel. Standing on the red steps, the same ones Alicia Keys and Jay-Z are standing on in the film clip for Empire State of Mind, I discovered the Forever 21 digital billboard above the store was actually a huge camera. Hundreds of meters above the ground, this billboard would film all the people standing in Times Square. Tourists were bustling through one another trying to make themselves noticeable on the giant screen, and every 10 minutes or so, a Forever 21 model would appear on the screen, take out a poloriod camera and snap a still image of all the people on the ground.
I personally found this amazing and was overwhelmed with the emergence of technology and the creativity behind the concept. I ran into the store and raided the first, second, third and fourth floor. At the time, I didn’t think of the advertising tactics behind it, but now I’ve come to realize, I haven’t been aware of the advertising strategies I’ve succumbed too throughout my entire life until studying this topic. And that’s what makes advertisers clever, they use subliminal messages tap into your unconscious state of mind.
In our lecture, we were introduced to a number of concepts and terms which I find super relevant to this topic. With the increase of public screens in public spaces, places are turning into mediums. For example, my local shopping center is flooded with plasma screen TV’s in the food courts and retail stores. This ‘Shopping center media’ turns the actual space into a medium. Another concept which I found excellent referred to advertisers and how they are ‘stalking the escaped viewer’. Most advertisements are aimed to reach their target audiences in their homes where they have access to the Television, Internet and other platforms. However, as time progresses, technology emerges, lifestyle changes are made and social norms are reversed, leading individuals to spend more time out of home. By using public spaces as the setting for advertisements, advertisers are finding a new way to reach their target markets – bombarding them with endless amounts of media when walking down the street.
Now the next issue raised is, how does this make us feel? The Television or just any digital screen in general, has become a significant feature in most households today. Do we feel as if we are being evaded with advertising messages, that have the power to subliminally persuade us into purchasing a product? Public screens can be found in bars, gyms and restaurants nowadays, and are also increasingly appearing in private spaces too, such as bedrooms. Our culture has become so comfortable and used to the television since its introduction to Australia in 1929, that we perform daily activities in front of it while still being exposed to it. An example of this is my mother and ironing. The act of ironing in a laundry for anytime longer than 30 minutes drives her insane. To resolve this, she moved the ironing board into the living room and watches her favorite shows, the news or whatever else is on TV while ironing. She has been doing this for several years now, and I followed in her footsteps by “doing” my homework in front of the TV when I was in high school.
And then there are those who rely on the television screen and have a relationship with it, an example being, my father and every Rugby League game. If you ever come over to my place on a Friday night (Football night), and hear my father screaming, either the Roosters have scored or the refs have made an unfair call. I wouldn’t even try to ask my father a question during a Roosters game, as I know he will be too engaged with the TV screen.
Now the only thing left to figure out is the solution. How do we find a healthy balance between advertising, entertaining media and living carefree lifestyle without subliminal messages influencing our every move?
Although television, digital signage and other public screens can produce many cons, they are also fine examples of the incredible technology emergence in the world today.
Edwards, J., 2013, ‘Here’s How Much It Actually Costs To Buy One Of Those Times Square Billboards’, Business Insider Australia, viewed 21/09/2013, http://www.businessinsider.com.au/what-it-costs-to-advertise-in-times-square-2012-12
Lee, R., 2003, Linking a Nation: Australia’s Transport and Communications 1788 – 1970, Australian Heritage Commission, viewed 21/09/2013, http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/publications/commission/books/linking-a-nation/chapter-9.html#tv
Travel and Leisure, 2011, World’s Most Visited Tourist Attractions, Travel and Leisure, viewed 21/09/2013, http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-most-visited-tourist-attractions/2
Turnbull, S., Bowles, K., 2013, ‘Week 8 Digital Signage, Advertising and the Search for New Audiences’, Lecture powerpoint slides, BCM240, University of Wollongong, viewed 16/09/2013,