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When consumers embrace ads

By Rogier van BakelSpecial To The Christian Science Monitor / September 20, 1999



NEW YORK

In fairness, not all advertising is foisted upon wary, cynical consumers.

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Lots of people happily immerse themselves in ads, especially if doing so can save them a good chunk of change.

Take Free PC. Late last year the Pasadena-based company announced it was giving away personal computers - but there was a catch or two. Those who applied had to first relinquish all manner of personal data (income, marital status, shopping preferences, favorite magazine, the family's birthdays, etc.). Then, once the PC arrived, perfectly tailored ads would constantly snake around the bottom and right side of the screen, even when users were not online.

Users of Free PCs might be doing their taxes on the machine, or writing the Great American Novel, and right in front of their noses there'd be an unstoppable parade of flashing come-ons.

The company claims it got more than a million requests for a supply of just 10,000 PCs.

Other Faustian bargains:

*Some long-distance companies now offer free minutes to people who don't mind listening to brief commercials during every call.

*A Philadelphia couple recently had its entire wedding sponsored. (But the bride made it clear that the space on her dress was not for sale, saying, "There are limits.")

*Responding to an offer earlier this year, more than 40 San Franciscans had the logo of a local Mexican eatery tattooed on themselves - real needles, real ink - to qualify for a free daily meal.

Maybe someday people will sell the space on their foreheads to any suitably cerebral enterprise that shows them the money - say, a bookstore, or a college.

After all, if advertisers scratch the backs of consumers, they'll probably return the favor. And when it comes to ambient ads, we may have just scratched the surface.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society