Ads, ads everywhere

In the US, advertising is everywhere. You can’t go anywhere without being urged to buy stuff. You see them when you are driving, they are there at the gas pump when pumping gas, they are there on the ATM screen when you are getting cash, you hear them when you are put on hold. You simply cannot avoid them.

People have developed ways to filter out some of this noise. When watching things on the web, I usually switch the window to something else while an ad plays, though of course I still can hear the sound. With DVRs and the like, people can zip through the commercials on TV programs. As a result, we now have more subtle pressure in the form of product placement in films and TV shows and I have also read of shows where the product is actually woven into the story line.

Of course, films and TV shows from the old days had not discovered the lucrative nature of product placement and so are free of such intrusions. But no longer! Thanks to the magic of CGI, it is now possible to alter those old shows to insert ads into them and a company called Mirriad does just that. So in an older film, in the original someone might be walking past a store window or a blank wall. That can now be altered so that the window displays an ad for a product or the wall becomes a billboard.

When old black and white films started to be colorized, there was a huge debate as to whether this was appropriate because it changed the director’s vision of the film. (I personally feel that the films should be left alone because I have never had any problem with black and white films. In fact, I often cannot remember whether an old film I watched was in color or not.)

There has not been a similar outcry at this new practice of ad insertion because at present the ads are being placed only in TV reruns. But if and when they begin do it to films (and you can be sure this will happen), be prepared for another huge debate about the propriety of altering a work of art.

Stephen Colbert discusses this new development.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

(This clip aired on January 13, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. colnago80 says

    One of the issues that arises relative to colorization is the fact that some of the black and white flics were originally slated to be shot in color but were shot in black and white instead because of inadequate budgets. It is my information that one of those flics was the classic SiFi/horror movie Them and there has been controversy as to whether it would be appropriate to develop a colorized version of it as it was originally planned to shoot it in color. So far, no action has been taken.

  2. mnb0 says

    “films and TV shows from the old days had not discovered the lucrative nature of product placement”
    I dispute this. My father and I already in the 80’s had developed the hobby to find out which companies had sponsored the movies we watched. Coca Cola scored remarkably high.

  3. Heidi Nemeth says

    Men have a larger proportion of rods to cones in their central vision than women do. The rods can only see white or black. Cones are responsible for color vision. So women generally have better color vision than men, but men can see better in the dark. Men are more likely to dream in black and white than women are. Perhaps men find black and white films a more adequate representation of reality than women do because of the differences in visual perception between the sexes.

  4. doublereed says

    Perhaps men find black and white films a more adequate representation of reality than women do because of the differences in visual perception between the sexes.

    That’s silly and makes no sense. Real life is in color. Even if you are R/G colorblind, that doesn’t mean a film with the R/G taken out would be more realistic to you. If men see less color than women, then changing the level of color in the picture wouldn’t make it more/less realistic, because they would already see less color. That’s backwards thinking.

  5. cafink says

    Heidi’s hypothesis seems plausible to me on the surface. If men see less color than women, then a black-and-white picture would be less realistic than a color one for both sexes, but the difference would be less drastic for men than for women.

  6. says

    Richard Feynman used to say that if we just didn’t but anything we saw advertised, and said so, for 9 months, it’d all stop completely, absolutely and always.

  7. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Since modern TVs are displays with an embedded computer, there will inevitably be adblockers for TV.

    Next I want an adblocker for my VR goggles, so I don’t see ads when walking the streets.

  8. lorn says

    True facts from Florida: several years ago the local Winn Dixie got paid to have a contractor carve out two by one foot sections of linoleum and insert adds in to their floor. Evidently it wasn’t profitable because the ads were removed and I have yet to see similar in-flooring ads again.

    In beach resort areas there are contractors who get paid to groom the beach in the wee small hours of the morning. They use a tractor drawn combine looking rig that rakes, smooths and cleans the sand to collect any litter, butts, or similar debris. The manufacturer of the machine realized that with a small modification of the rolling screed he could leave advertising pressed into the sand. Early arriving beach-goers could see beach marked with 10′ by 20′ advertisements that repeat endlessly, for literal miles.

    This in addition to the aircraft flying banners up and down the beach.

    Long ago I remember reading of the possible opportunity of selling floor and ceiling advertising space in labor and delivery rooms. The idea being that those advertisements could be the first ads an infant sees and they might trigger a lifelong brand loyalty. This was clearly put forth by an advertising executive who knew nothing of the visual acuity of newborns.

    There was once a plan put forth to project an advertising logo, being small the design would need to be simple, onto the moon. As much as I would like to think that the plan was shot down by common sense and good taste I suspect that the main reason it didn’t go through was the need to get international agreement.

    General rule of capitalism: Nothing is so pretty or perfect that it cannot be improved by using it as an opportunity to sell. Billboards and Mt. Rushmore, essentially an advertisement for nationalism, are both expressions of what is wrong with the American spirit.

  9. Anri says

    Next thing you know, there might even be ads all over Freethought Blogs!

    …nah, the readership wouldn’t stand for it.

  10. says

    Richard Feynman used to say that if we just didn’t but anything we saw advertised, and said so, for 9 months, it’d all stop completely, absolutely and always.

    I do that*. Have done for more than 10 years. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped anyone yet. But it has sure saved me money.

    *It doesn’t count if I purposefully look up info on something with the intention to buy it already formed.

  11. Dunc says

    @mnb0, #2: Since Mano is talking about the days of black and white here, I rather doubt that he regards the 80s as “the old days”. I certainly don’t, and I’m pretty sure Mano is older than me.

  12. machintelligence says

    Does anyone else remember a Heinlein SF short story about the first soft landing on the moon? As I recall, the device was supposed to shoot a cloud of fluorescent material upwards that would be visible from Earth when it cleared the moon’s shadow. It did, but someone had placed a mask over the nozzle, and in the final words of the story “The o’s and a’s were a bit ragged, but the c’s and l’s were perfect.”

  13. Mano Singham says


    Yes, I was thinking much older than that, at least back to the sixties or so, so that color films were already here. With much older films, it would be hard to insert current ads without running the risk of serious and obvious anachronisms.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    In Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon”, a billionaire with a rocket program proposed to land a module in the center (as seen from Earth) of the Moon, and that module would launch smaller rockets that would spray powder at various points in their flight so as to create a 7-Up logo.

    The billionaire took that scenario to the head man of Coca-Cola, and thereby blackmailed him into supporting the billionaire’s space project.

    (The identities of the corporations were very lightly masked under different names, but were obvious to all readers at the time.)

    Yes, kids, at one time 7-Up was considered the main rival to Coke, and Pepsi was considered a mere copy-cat.

  15. Jonny Vincent says

    To sell a product that isn’t needed, is there any other way to motivate someone to buy it without inflicting pain? It seems to me that the advertising industry is compelled to inflict pain so they can dangle their product as the needed pain relief.

    If you can afford it. The poor are forced to stew in the malicious suffering inflicted by advertisers who depreciate everyone’s perception of their reality to sell their luxury consumables to those who can afford it. Sucks to be poor, for the rich and the poor.

    I believe a French noblewoman once said, “Let them eat cake.” I’m not sure she was being malicious so much as trying to hold onto her head but of course they didn’t let them eat cake and, as a result, they all lost their heads. It seems all we ever learn from history is how to lose our heads by hoarding cake, the Secret to Happiness (as everyone who doesn’t have cake will Know).

  16. Jockaira says

    #13. machintelligence and #15 Mano Singham

    The story you remember IIRC was not from Heinlein, but from Arthur C. Clarke. It was a short story appearing in one of his anthologies from the late 40’s to the early 50’s. The original intent of the “experiment” was to measure the extent of the moon’s atmosphere to be accomplished with a small cannon shooting a charge of micro-powdered sodium away from the moon’s surface. The shot was done in the moon’s night and the sodium would become visible once it had attained sufficient altitude in the solar glare above. The objective would be achieved by measuring the size of the expnding sodium cloud against its altitude and time of deployment.

    Unbeknowst to all the scientists and lander personnel, a saboteur on earth had secreted a cutout of the Coca-Cola logo in the cannon’s barrel. When the sodium cloud became visible in the sunlight after expanding to several hundreds of miles in diameter. the logo was discernable from earth.

    A similar experiment was done in the late 40’s or early 50’s by the US in their Aerobee-Hi program in which a cloud of sodium dust was released into earth’s rarified upper atmosphere at about 200 miles altitude to measure its extent and probable distribution. This experiment did not include any merchandising.

    On Topic: Besides Global Climate Change, control of nuclear weapons, and the elimination of war as legitimate international conflict resolution, the social control and eventual elimination of almost all forms of advertising is high on the agenda of 21st century earth, especially in the capitalist-oriented nations. The psychological manipulations of emotions and rationality necessary to sell unneeded and unwanted commercial products are increasingly being used to win elections, control populations, and install governments hostile to basic human freedoms

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to learn and understand that commercial advertising adds no value to the product being vended except to the producer, therefore has no value to the wider community. SCOTUS has recognised that commercial speech is different in motivation from all other speeches and must be regulated to society’s general benefit. However, it has given exemptions to advertising for religious and political purposes making it even more sure that advertising will be prostituted to these purposes, as it already is in all other commercial endeavours. These latter exemptions are at least as dangerous to human freedom and dignity as advertising in general is.

  17. jonP says

    I’m no comedian, but I am sure that there is some great potential for humorous anachronisms somewhere in all of this. Like maybe a Subway saloon in an old western.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *