The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future

#2. Going Undercover

So what can a person do in this environment? Dismiss all ads as lies and spin? How would such a person make their buying decisions? Well, by trusting their peers. They'll roll their eyes at a vodka ad on TV, but if their buddy declares it to be "the shit" 30 times in an evening before passing out on the kitchen table, there's a good chance they'll be convinced it's worth trying.

After all, it's not like marketers are going to, you know, hire people to pretend to be your peers and recommend things to you, right?

What They're Doing:
Oh, you know better than that by now. They call it undercover marketing. This is why virtually every product on, no matter how shitty, has that one really articulate, wildly positive review. This is why even horrible movies will have an early "leaked" review turn up on, echoing all of the points from the marketing campaign ("Stallone is back ... and better than ever!").

The marketers hire plants to generate buzz anywhere they can, in user reviews, on messageboards, in chatrooms ...

If You Think It's Bad Now ...
... at bars, in clubs and parties. That's right, undercover marketing is oozing into the real world.

So, say an attractive girl walks up to you in the street, tells you she's from out of town and asks if you would take a picture of her in front of a local landmark. As your brain desperately races to come up with something witty to say to her, you raise the camera to take the picture and notice that it's actually pretty damn nice. They just got you. That girl was hired by Sony to promote the new camera you're holding.

Sound paranoid? Well it turns out Sony has been doing it for years.

That type of advertising will only get more and more common and people will become more and more resistant to traditional ads. If you thought those "Hey, you're cute! Come check out my webcam!" spam emails were irritating, wait until you start running into their real-life equivalent in bars.

It's the ultimate evolution of advertising, to make the ads completely indistinguishable from regular human interaction. These will be regular folks on the street or sitting at their computers. Or maybe they'll even get you in on it. You can sell your next-door neighbor something and then he'll turn around and sell you something else right back. Marketers want to do the unthinkable: They want to make all of us one of them.

#1. Getting In Your Head

So, how much more invasive can marketing get? They watch what we buy and eat and read and wear. What are they going to do, follow us into the shower?

What They're Doing:
Hey, good idea! Moen gave a group of people money to allow them to watch them shower for weeks, to examine their every move (the study hilariously concludes that "Consumers frequently have only one free hand to use in the shower ... ").

But at least those people knew they were being watched. Companies like EnviroSell have the job of lurking around stores and carefully watching people's habits as they shop (one conclusion they spotted: when one customer accidentally brushes the ass of another customer, they tend not to buy anything).

Well that's about as creepy as it gets, right? Where else could they possibly stick their nose?

If You Think It's Bad Now ...
Well, how about inside your skull? Tracking our habits is all fine and good, but for ad men it's not enough. They need to know, not just what you buy, but why you buy it.

Behavioral economists and scientists have teamed up to perform brain scans on volunteers to figure out just what makes the "buy it now" part of your brain light up. They want to know which neurons in your brain fire when ads are effective and which neurons fire when they're not.

At that point, all advertisers need to do is find out what subconscious cues it takes to make their product slip right past the part of you that thinks through buying decision before reaching for your wallet. Though it seems like they could have saved a few million dollars and just stuck some boobs in the ad, but, hey, it's their money.

Nathan Birch also writes the invasively cute webcomic Zoology.

For more examples of terrifying technology, read David Wong's rundown of The Next 25 Years of Video Games. Or, for a simpler piece of technology you should be scared of, watch this video about The REAL Reason Guns are Dangerous.

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