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  • Writer's pictureMartin Schmalzried

Time to regulate advertising, before we go NUTS!

Wednesday 3rd of October 2018, I am waiting for boarding the Eurostar to go to London from Brussels in the main hall. Two animated LCD panels play some flashy colourful adverts. I’ve sort of gotten used to them. Obviously, animated ads are more attention grabbing then still posters or banners slapped on a pillar in a train station. But then, suddenly, I freeze, in absolute shock and horror. The *£%&! ad has SOUND!

Let me put an emphasis on this: SOUND! S-O-U-N-D!

Maybe this is old news, but this was my first encounter with this type of machine.

So after maximizing visual pollution seemingly to it’s maximum, slapping ads in front of your face in public toilets, painting entire public transports in advertising, mounting colorful brand names next to historic monuments, repainting the entire façade of buildings, now, we have crossed a new threshold, that of SOUND POLLUTION.

For those of you that might think I’m being a drama-queen, overly exaggerating the severity of this issue, think again. For parents, it is easy to understand. All parents have lived through this ordeal: a nice friend buys a seemingly harmless toy for your toddler. And then, as the toddler plays with it, in the blessed silence that all parents enjoy when their toddler starts to learn to play on their own, the toddler pushes a button and lo and behold, resounds the most annoyingly short jingle. It can be a few musical notes associated to the sound of an animal, something catchy and at first, quite cute. But after the initial “owwww”, comes the nightmarish headache. The toddler happily presses the button again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… ad nauseum, until you can hear the jingle resounding in your head everywhere you go, in the toilet, while you shower, picking up the mail… It even haunts you as you sleep. There is possibly NOTHING as mind numbing as a repetitive sound, playing indefinitely, emptying your patience gauge at frightening speed and killing probably more neurons then alcohol and drugs combined. So while playing classical music in the metro might pacify minds, playing an annoying jingle… would also “pacify” minds, in a very sick sick way (as in, permanently destroying them).

This is the feeling I had, sitting about 30 minutes next to this nightmarish LCD advertising Terminator. After that time, I felt like swinging a 10kg sledgehammer into the damn thing, relieved by the refreshing and orgasmic sound of shrieking metal and breaking glass, which would be a welcome relief to the mind numbing jingle that was randomly played, again, and again, and again, and again until it was playing in your mind. BUY, BUY, BUY!!! Thankfully, out of sheer professionalism, I decided to walk away from the damn Beast and write an article about it instead.

The most ironic part is that the message of the jingle itself, “girls can do anything”, is quite in line with my NGOs work on gender equality and empowering women! In that sense, the comparison with the extract from Clockwork Orange is more than fitting. Regardless of how positive a message is, force-feeding it into people’s minds via repetitive, harassing, intrusive advertising will be extremely detrimental and counter-productive.

I think you get the picture. Now for the message addressed to policy makers: IT’S TIME TO REGULAAAAATE!!! This is a perfect example of what happens in a unregulated competitive environment. And this is important: I am not trying to point finger, shame the company running the ad, or the company owning the LCD nightmare machine, this is the logical end result of what happens when you have an unregulated competitive environment. Again, if nothing specifically forbids it, why not utilize LCD animated adds with sound? After all, they capture attention better then ads with motion, which are themselves better than static ads! And what if a company doesn’t propose this solution? Then their competitors will gain a competitive advantage, gain market shares, and they will die out!

What’s next? Perhaps they will find that self-driving, talking LCDs on wheels, that circle around people following them around are even better at grabbing attention! And after that, LCDs with sound that trip you as you walk by! That will surely grab your f*£&! attention!

This problem is systemic. Proponents of self-regulation, now is your chance to prove your worth! So far, however, for both offline and online advertising, it looks like a race to the bottom, maximizing attention grabbing to the point of driving people NUTS. How could this horrible idea make it to the market? What we need are clear rules which define a limit, just like the Audio Visual Media Services Directive sets a cap of 12 minutes of advertising per hour on TV. Please, regulators, protect your citizens’ sanity! It may come in handy for the upcoming elections…

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