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Future Schlock

  • July 1, 2002, 12:00 AM EDT
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From the first press report, I've been convinced that the nation's No. 1 movie, Minority Report, is really a deliciously twisted, kind-of-subliminal marketing campaign created by the nation's ad vertisers and ad agencies to show off.

The film is infused with ad symbolism—the scene where Tom Cruise literally chases his own eyeballs, for example. Talk about your inside baseball.

And advertising itself—talky, intrusive, one-on-one, omnipresent—is virtually a central character in the film. Abetted by retina-scanning technology, ads for all sorts of real products and services literally call out to Cruise by name as he hurtles around (in a Gap store, in one instance) trying to avoid the Precrime cops he used to lead. Obviously, a blatant attempt by the outdoor- advertising industry to tout its ability to really, truly connect with consumers on the go.

There has been a torrent of media scrutiny of the movie's portrayal of advertising in the world of 2054. And, inevitably, the interviews with indignant citizens enraged by the encroachment of commerce on their personal lives.

Sure, such a dystopian view of the marketing process looks on the surface like a caution against over-commercialism. But it's really the opposite: a fiendish attempt to manage expectations, to ramp up perception so that the reality will be much easier to take. Because the future of advertising isn't going to be anything like the chattering uber-communication we see in Minor ity Report.

It's going to be a lot worse.

Advertising won't talk to us, as it does in the movie. No, it will beep to us, via our Blackberrys or whatever we'll be carrying around. Beeping, beeping, everywhere beeping. Much harder to take than your name being called out. Also has a curiously lulling, sales-inducing effect.

Nobody listens to the radio in this movie, so no annoying attempts at ad humor. Nobody uses personal computers, so there are no popping (and beeping) banner ads. All of which are likely to overcome us in the real future.

OK, the part about knowing when and where we bought something last (with the talking ads entreating a running Cruise) is grounded in truth. But, again, it won't be verbal so much as visual, showing up on all the electronic boxes we use (and, yes, it will probably beep).

Also, this whole idea of Precrime? No question that, if such a thing existed, advertising would "borrow" the technology and we'd have Preadvertising divisions at WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic Group and Publicis. And then media buyers and art directors would come crashing through skylights and swoop down on sponsored nylon ropes, pinning us to our beds and shoving half-off coupons in our faces.

In fact, the only thing that really rings true in Minority Report is the lack of TV commercials. Because in the future, there won't be any. Everything will be written into the shows themselves.

Which is where losing your eyeballs down a drain really sounds prophetic.