Watch Your Back

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From Computoredge

Watch Your Back

July 14, 2000

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Click for details. Is it me or are commercials everywhere these days? Well, I suppose I shouldn't complain much. After all, there's an ad for my book right next to this column. But, still, it seems that advertising is encroaching more and more upon our lives. Ads are all over the place. On buses, on taxis, on ATM screens, even above urinals. And now, the advertising community has found yet another place on which to plaster ads. Your car.

Yes, using the same technique that is used to place thin vinyl ads over city buses, three companies hope to turn your car into a billboard on wheels. As you would imagine, all three have a web site. will pay you up to $400 a month for the opportunity to wrap your entire car with an advertisement. Two other companies, and, actually plan to give away a car covered with advertisements to anyone who enrolls. As the web site says, "Come along for the ride as we democratize the outdoor advertising industry."

Hmmn, democracy? Gee, I don't remember getting to vote on this one. Then again, $400 a month isn't bad, and a free car is still a free car. I'm sure many will take them up on the offer, but there are conditions. The cars will be equipped with a tracking device to reveal whether you are really driving where you say you are. The tracking device will also monitor your speed and driving performance. That's because when you sign up, you promise to drive responsibly for the duration of the contract. That means no speeding, no erratic driving, and no flipping people off.

Obviously, none of these programs are coming here to Boston anytime soon.

Actually, I think they're going about this all wrong. After all, who ever remembers the good drivers? It's the crazy lunatics that we all remember. If companies really wanted the most bang for their buck, they'd deck their cars out with their competitor's logo, and then hire the craziest, most spaced-out 16-year-old just out of driving school to cruise about town flipping people off left and right. Either that or get Grandpa to drive the car around at thirty-five MPH on the freeway with his left blinker flashing. It may be difficult to build positive name recognition for your brand, but you can sure as hell knock down your competitors.

Perhaps the presidential candidates might want to get in on this too. Seriously, with all the negative campaigning they like to do, this could be the next logical step on the road to the White House.

"Holy @#$@! Did you just see that Gore car cut me off? Jesus! There's no way I'm voting for him this year."

Meanwhile, if you're partial to giving other drivers the finger but still want some extra cash, you could always consider selling advertising on your clothing. And I'm not talking about simple logos either. Stephen Fitch, a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, has just created a leather jacket with a computer and a six-inch screen sewn into the back. The point of this? Why, to show commercials, of course.

Sure, Fitch claims that someday we'll all get to wear jackets just like this and show what we want on the screen, but for now advertisers are in control. The plan is to hire people to walk around at public events with commercials playing on their back. As there's currently only one jacket, few are involved, but sadly it might only be a matter of time before we're all able to sell advertising time on our clothes.

Incidentally, this is a leather jacket with a 233-MHz Pentium III processor. And yes, you're right. It probably is time to upgrade when some guy walks by you with a leather jacket that can outperform your computer. The jacket also comes with a broadband wireless Internet connection, and, to make it even creepier, there's a heat sensor that can count how many people were close enough to see the screen.

Already, the jacket has been used to show movie trailers in New York City, and recently Microsoft used it to show their commercials at an interactive advertising convention. In fact, Microsoft was the one who originally commissioned the jacket. And is there anyone out there surprised that Microsoft could be behind something this evil? I didn't think so.

I just hope that the jacket isn't running Windows as well. "Your jacket has performed an illegal function." Imagine the embarrassment. You're at a cool party flirting with an attractive member of the opposite sex, and suddenly you have to leave the room just to reboot your clothes. "I'm really sorry. This usually doesn't happen to me...."

Meanwhile, Fitch insists that this technology isn't just for advertisers. He even suggested to Wired that in a few years people could use it as "a form of self-expression." Instead of wearing a Britney Spears shirt, for example, you could play her video right on your back. There are also many other uses. "You could have a handbag that changes its pattern or flashes when your cell phone rings or displays flames when a fire truck goes by," he explains. Who knows? Perhaps you could even have a handbag that bursts into flames when a Britney Spears video is played on your back, or is that just asking too much of this technology?

At any rate, there may be no good way to stop this trend, but I do know one thing. If ever I see a product advertised on a video screen on the back of someone's jacket, I'm not buying it.

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