Previous “Ad Creep” posts

No Thanks, Telly 

Once again, I say “Yuck”.

Recently, I was asked by friend-of-the-site Oliver Y. if I’d be willing to use a free TV that came with inescapable ads. My reply? “Not a chance in hell”.

Since the earliest days of this site, I’ve bemoaned the relentless march of advertising into every corner of our lives. TV has, of course, long been full of ads. But these days, most streaming services offer tiers free of advertising, and I find an ad-free experience well worth paying a bit more. By contrast, the idea of bringing a screen into the house that does nothing but show ads makes me a little sick.

In the late 90s, there were attempts to subsidize things like software and internet service with ads. It was a losing strategy then, and I sure hope it’s a losing strategy now. I have some hope that it will be, because one, television sets have been incredibly inexpensive for years, and two, the people most likely to take this offer are surely the least attractive to advertisers.

Boston Uniforms, Gross and Fly

It would be nice to have more cool designs and fewer ads.

In the continued quest to put advertising in every conceivable place, Major League Baseball teams are now permitted to sell placement on their actual uniforms. Back in April, the Padres were the first team to announce a partnership, one which will feature hilariously large Motorola patches. Sadly, my hometown Red Sox have now joined this vulgar parade.

A Red Sox uniform with an unseemly ad patch on one sleeve.

In a word: Yuck. In an emoji: 🙊. Though MassMutual is a Massachusetts-based insurance company with 170+ years of history in the Bay State, they simply don’t belong on the team’s uniform. No one does. Alas, I have little doubt that this scourge is coming for the rest of the league as well.

In better uniform news, friend-of-the-site Casey L. and I were recently discussing mock-ups for alternate jersey for the Boston Celtics. He had found a fun jersey design created by a fan:

A Celtics jersey mockup, showing the colored lines of Boston’s subway system, as well as the system’s “T” logo.
[Image via @petemrogers]

This design plays off of Boston‘s public transit system (known as “The T”), including our four colored subway lines, two of which (Orange and Green) meet at North Station where the Celtics play. It’s a very nice idea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an original one. I had actually seen and enjoyed this same image a day or two earlier, before learning that it was actually a fairly obvious knock-off of another artist’s better design:

A better Celtics jersey mockup, also showing the colored lines of Boston’s subway system, as well as the system’s “T” logo.
[Image via Reddit]

Happily, when “timbo_sport” came to defend their honor, it led me to check out more of their work. That brought me to my favorite design yet, their “Cutting Edge”:

A wonderful Celtics jersey mockup, showing the lines and towers of the Zakim Bridge.

This gorgeous design subtly references the cables and towers of the Zakim Bridge, which sits directly next to TD Garden, the Celtics’ home arena. Living just down the street, I’ve captured a number of decent pictures of this bridge. However, this (slightly cropped) 2013 shot from Eric Kilby does a superior job of showing both the bridge and the Garden:

[Photo credit: Eric Kilby]

Built as part of Boston’s infamous Big Dig, the Zakim was at one time the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge, and it remains an icon for the city. Paying homage to it on the Celtics uniform would be delightful. Maybe some day.

From an ad-marred shame, to a decent image that turned out to be a knock-off, to the original creator’s better execution, to the above masterpiece, it was quite a uniform roller coaster. Of course, I’ll be forced to see the livery I most disliked all season next year, while the looks I enjoyed most don’t actually exist. A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

Ad Creep Continues 

Say, what's the easiest, most discreet way to break a video screen? Just out of curiosity.

Three years ago, I wrote about Cooler Screens, the horrible cooler-door screen company trying to embed advertising in yet another facet of our lives. Alas, my plea for them to just stop has (predictably) been unsuccessful. The displays are now in thousands of Walgreens stores, and many people are not fans.

To Avakian, it’s simply an expected growing pain. Cooler Screens plans to educate customers about the digital displays and launch features like voice recognition, so shoppers can ask about prices or item locations.

“This is the future of retail and shopping,” Avakian said.

I really hope not.

I Don’t Get Out of Bed to Stare at Ads for Less Than $10,000 a Day 

How much is your attention worth?

Today in creepy, awful advertising: PreShow.

It’s an app that lets you earn free movie tickets for watching 15 to 20 minutes of branded content on your phone…The company has developed a way to track your gaze to make sure you’re actually looking at the PreShow commercial…If you look away for too long, or leave your seat, the ad automatically pauses and you’ll get a red border around your screen.

On the one hand, with movie tickets costing around $10 each, this would be paying a pretty decent wage of $20 to $30 per hour to watch ads. On the other hand, this is much, much too close to “A Clockwork Orange” to not be sickening.

Creeping on You in the Cold Drinks Aisle

Not everything that can be “smart”, should be.

A new digital door technology from a company called Cooler Screens is now being tested in Walgreens, and it sounds absolutely awful. Rather than a basic, transparent glass door, coolers and freezers will be sealed by screens that show a sanitized image of the products behind them. Supposedly, these screens will:

  • Save energy

  • Help monitor inventory

  • Help customers with poor eyesight

  • Make products more visually appealing

That’s all nice enough, and those mild benefits might even be worth replacing a simple glass pane with a complex TV screen. However, further reading ultimately makes those benefits sound like nothing so much as an after-the-fact justification for the real motives behind this technology:

Flashing banner ads float between the digital rows of goods…in addition to the flashy ads and “smart” merchandising, these screens are equipped with sensors and cameras designed to watch and profile the appearance and actions of customers who find themselves in their path, like me. Approximate age and gender. How long my gaze lingers on the bottles of tea.

It seems there’s money to be earned by creeping on you in the cold drinks aisle, and Cooler Screens is determined to try and earn it. If this takes off, animated advertisements, eyeball tracking, and customer profiling will all become part of our simple shopping experience. But don’t worry, Cooler Screens has a privacy policy:

A. Information Collected through our Smart Coolers.

We work with retailers to deploy Smart Coolers in their stores. The Smart Coolers are equipped with computerized cameras that record videos and images of consumers who walk by or stand in proximity to the Smart Coolers. The cameras are connected to software provided by our Service Providers. Depending on the jurisdiction, the software may process facial images of consumers in real-time to determine gender, age or age range, number of consumers, and/or how consumers interact with the Smart Coolers. We do not save the videos or images beyond this processing. The software develops statistics concerning the environment where the particular Smart Cooler is located. We use those statistics for purposes of understanding consumer trends and purchase behavior, which may be used to inform advertising campaigns and product placement.

Cooler Screens does not collect or retain any information that individually identifies consumers.

Unwritten, but implied, are the phrases “…at this time” or “…yet”, or perhaps most realistically, “…until we can earn a few more cents by taking things even further”. Because of course, the privacy policy also includes this catch-all:

10. Changes to this Privacy Policy. We reserve the right to revise and reissue this Privacy Policy at any time. Any changes will be effective immediately upon posting of the revised Privacy Policy. Your continued use of our Service indicates your consent to the Privacy Policy then posted. If the changes are material, we may provide you additional notice to your email address.

As a customer, continued use of the Cooler Screens “Service” might simply mean “walking into the grocery store”. Individual consumers have very limited control over how this sort of encroachment affects our lives. At some point, those with more power need to have the backbone to simply say “Enough”, and refuse to indulge in the mindless pursuit of every last possible source of revenue. Failing that, I don’t know how we stop the continual overreach by companies looking to mine our data and our eyeballs for profit.

While I’m sure it’s a futile endeavor, after poking at the Cooler Screens website, I felt compelled to send the following to their public email address:

  • To anyone who might listen at Cooler Screens,

    Please, just stop. You are making the world a worse place. Reconsider what you’re doing. Not every single thing that can be tracked and monetized must be. Is this what you want your legacy to be?


It’s unlikely that the founders and employees of Cooler Screens will have a sudden moral awakening, but at least it was cathartic. Perhaps this technology will instead be killed by the marketplace itself, failing to generate enough revenue to be worthwhile. That would at least be something. One way or another, I hope Cooler Screens is shuttered before bright, blinking advertising gains yet another foothold in our lives.

A New Low Even for Uber 

Here’s a Halloween fright for you: advertising via drone! Yes, apparently Uber has used drones to advertise its services to drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico, resulting in one of the most dystopian pictures I’ve seen in quite some time. If I’d been stuck in this traffic jam, I certainly wouldn’t not have been able to resist visiting violence upon these taunting advertisements.

Advertising at a Funeral

E.B. White said “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it”. In other words, explaining a joke tends to ruin it. However, when it comes to things of a ludicrous nature, analysis often serves to heighten my amusement. So it is with this tweet, which followed the recent passing of Nelson Mandela:

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela, subject of Weinstein Co’s Idris Elba-starrer 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' which opened Nov 29 and has awards buzz.
Awful, just awful.

I first saw this via my pal Neven Mrgan, who retweeted a link from @Arr, wherein the post was dubbed “the tweetest tweet of all time”. There’s a pretty good history of marketers and the like using social media all kinds of wrong (Kenneth Cole is a repeat offender, for example), but this is just stunning. I spent some time trying to trump it:

  • R.I.P. Nelson Mandela, man who was black, like Armani’s stunning new ‘Midnight’ line of leather jackets.

  • R.I.P. Nelson Mandela, human who ate food, just like what we serve here at The Olive Garden. Where you’re family!

  • R.I.P. Nelson Mandela, man who was imprisoned, just like the criminals the Corrections Corporation of America keeps locked away behind bars.” [Editor’s Note: Twoosh!]

I don’t think she can be topped though. Let’s quickly dissect Finke’s tweet. It starts by segueing from the incredible real life of Nelson Mandela to a damned movie. It then makes sure to mention the star, Idris Elba, with some truly bizarre grammar. Finally, it closes with a mention that the movie “has awards buzz”, though reviews appear decidedly mixed. It’s an astonishing train wreck, all the way from the comma on to the period.

But I skipped over the capper, the thing that really kills me. That’s right up top, where Finke felt the need to mention the fucking distributor for the film, The Weinstein Company. Thank goodness she had enough characters left to squeeze that one in there, because it’s truly important.

Less than an hour after her horrible initial tweet, Ms. Finke decided to dig herself in deeper, with this defense:

I write about the entertainment biz. And that movie is a wonderful tribute to Nelson Mandela since it's based on his autobiography.

Multiple people attempted to get through to her and make her realize the disgusting crassness of what she wrote. They pointed out, simply, that she’s also a human being. Me, I’m not so sure. If she is, you certainly wouldn’t know it from her tweets.

A Familiar Face

One of the big new things on the web is targeted advertising. Using cookies and other tracking methods, sites can customize ads for you based on what might interest you. For instance, if you use Google to search for “pregnancy”, you might find your web surfing has a significant number of baby-related ads. While this can occasionally be useful, it’s also often disturbing, even creepy.

Of course, sometimes the results are downright hilarious. Such was the case when my friend Mike Ash was perusing one of his favorite sites and was greeted by a familiar face:

A Familiar Llama Ad
Pretty sure I recognize that llama

One Snap, One Ad 

Following up on yesterday’s post about Avatar’s massive advertising campaign, more encroachment by advertising can be found in Madden 2010. This additional advertising came as part of a bug fix update to the game – nice.

Every time I see something like this, I’m reminded of a quote from the Fishful of Dollars episode of Futurama:

Fry: So you’re telling me they broadcast commercials into people’s dreams?

Leela: Of course.

Fry: That’s awful. It’s like brainwashing!

Leela: Didn’t you have ads in the 20th century?

Fry: Well, sure, but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio. And in magazines. And movies. And at ball games, and on buses, and milk cartons, and T-shirts, and bananas, and written on the sky. But not in dreams. No, sir-ee!

A Horrifying Realization

Avatar is everywhere right now. It opened this past weekend in thousands of theaters and took the number one spot at the box office. But while it just opened to wide release, it’s been annoying me for several months. A large part of this dislike stems from the many places I’ve seen Avatar:

  • Multiple movie trailers

  • Innumerable TV ads, for both the movie and associated products like the Avatar video game

  • Seemingly every print and film media publication

  • Other commercials

In fact, it would probably be easier to provide a list of places I haven’t seen Avatar:

  • A movie theater

Sure, I’ve heard some good things and I may see the movie eventually. The point here, however, is that the advertising campaign associated with this movie is just massive. The strangest part about it is the last item on the list of places Avatar has appeared: other commercials.

I first noticed this before a Simpsons re-run. A simple animation of Bart was shown, while the announcer said something along the lines of “See Avatar in theaters. But first, see The Simpsons next”. These were two wholly unrelated things, oddly smashed together by one awkward voiceover.

Next up, I saw Avatar in this LG ad. Watch it if you like1; the short version is that a man is showing off his projector cell phone [Editor’s Note: Ah…ha.] by playing a trailer for Avatar. The commercial then focuses on the phone, before showing an “Avatar: Only in theaters” frame near the end.

What’s really set me off, however, is this nonsensical McDonald’s ad. Again, you can click to watch. The gist is that the audio from the ad, played over alternating scenes of Avatar and people clutching McDonald’s food, advises us to “Celebrate a taste like no other with a movie like no other. Bite into Avatar at McDonald’s and prepare to be thrilled”.


It was as I was ranting and raving about this stupidity, that I was hit with a horrifying realization. I don’t know how I’ll go on from this, and it’s so bad that I’m not even sure if I should share it with others. I think it’s best if we at least face reality, however.

That reality is that this is product placement. It’s product placement inside another commercial. They’ve finally run out of places to insert ads into content. And so, it’s come to this:

They’re putting ads inside of ads.


  1. Archived here. ↩︎