If you have ever been to an Apple retail store, everybody there seems to have ingested a combination of Ecstasy and psilocybin shrooms. The staff is earnestly and cheerfully productive, and the customers don't seem to mind the wait for sales or repair service. Clearly, a lot of thought went into making the stores highly customer-centric and friendly. I am not, however, so sure that as much thought has been given to the patent Apple has applied for that displays advertising on almost anything that has a screen of some kind: computers, phones, televisions, media players, game devices and other consumer electronics.
Says the NYT: "Its distinctive feature is a design that doesn't simply invite a user to pay attention to an ad -- it also compels attention. The technology can freeze the device until the user clicks a button or answers a test question to demonstrate that he or she has dutifully noticed the commercial message. Because this technology would be embedded in the innermost core of the device, the ads could appear on the screen at any time, no matter what one is doing....What the application calls the "enforcement routine" entails administering periodic tests, like displaying on top of an ad a pop-up box with a response button that must be pressed within five seconds before disappearing to confirm that the user is paying attention."
Shocked enough? There's more: the patent is written for all "computers" -- as defined by the presence of a processor, memory, storage and network connection. That covers a lot of devices including some cars, trucks and refrigerators.
On the optimistic side someone speculated that such a process, may allow Apple to drop the entry price of devices like the iPhone and MacBook by offering ad-supported versions -- potentially offering free iPhones to the world and causing MacBooks to be affordable to those who may otherwise not be able to afford them.
But it has never been the policy of Over The Line to look on the bright side. If fact, we go where others fear to travel in search of the worst possible scenario. Or second worst, whichever is funnier.
While I am tangentially in the ad business (some of my most casual acquaintances are Mad Men), I am also a consumer, and have been forced to engage in a vast electronic dodgeball game with media entities who think more ads are better. I was an early video recording adopter, and still have a machine that skips forward in 30- second increments. With the newer DVRs I can watch a network TV show in about 40 minutes or a football game in an an hour instead of three. I am as banner blind as the next guy, although I must say I do like retargeted ads from commerce sites I have recently visited. They make me feel special. I have the same pop-up blocker that you do, and am just as likely to skip those "welcome screens" as you are. I confess that I am growing weary from the crush of ads coming from every direction.
I realize it is a long way from a patent application to actual implementation, but I think I can speak on behalf of more than just a handful of consumers when I say that this technology could be a brand killer. Especially if one brand foists it on consumers and others do not. Just as seeing the same ad too many times moves me from a positive to a negative feeling about the marketer, any advertiser that makes me pass an attention test before I get access to any application on my computer (or "phones, televisions, media players, game devices and other consumer electronics") will be put on an embargo list and I will buy around their brand. And I know I can do this. Dell, for example, is on now on the list for a variety of other reasons, and I am very happy with my HP computers and printers.
At any rate, those of us on the sidelines -- and in the middle -- of the advertising game need to learn that more is not better. Better is better.