Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ambi(val)ent media

“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." Brian Eno – Inner linings of Music for Airports, 1978 Whereas Brian Eno did not invent “ambient music” (Erik Satie is credited with the concept) he did coin the term. Ambient comes from the Latin word “ambire” – to surround. Legend has it that Eno had the idea of such music while lying in his hospital bed recovering from a car crash. One of the earphones of his Walkman failed to function and there he was – listening to music on one side and to the sounds of the world on the other. The above is a great way of introducing ambient media, this “new” form of advertising which aims to be an unobtrusive part of the landscape rather than a flashy one. When my cousin Charbel went back from the United States in the late 80s, he took me for a car ride and in the process explained to me what “advertising” was: It is anything that grasps my attention he said, like this “Abou Tony” banner pointing to handwritten notice on a convenience store in the middle of a deserted mountain road. For me, it was a revelation, because suddenly I understood why magazines, roads, newspapers were so full of ads and why we looked a them: Because they were in-your-face, blatant, obvious, attention-grabbing, even exhibitionistic, etc…. But with time, we became accustomed to their sight, our eyes grew lazy, expectative, less embracing of the novelty, and certainly our immune system grew a vaccine against the advertisers’ most notable efforts to impress us. So, instead of going through the front door, the army of ever-persuasive ad people are now going through – no, not the windows, but through that tiny aeration hole in the bathroom. Nevermind barricading the doors, hammering the windows, and stacking furniture on the kitchen’s back door, they still find their way to creep in…. Examples include but are not limited to: Sliding doors in malls, golf balls, bus exhausts, bathroom mirrors (Especially in restaurant and public places), parking floors, abandoned walls, drinking cups, shopping bags, straws…. Previously unthought of surfaces are now springing to life with messages which are not the usual “in-your-face, blatant, etc (Please refer to the above list)” forms of selling. Rather, they pretend they are not selling anything, take the viewer by surprise, even at the risk of the consumer missing the ad altogether, replying on the force of word-of-mouth (have you seen the…..) or of viral marketing through email forwarding to people who have interest in creative ads. The question remains that how long will it take us to be corrupted? How long will it take it before scrutinizing every restaurant’s bathroom mirror for an ad we haven’t noticed, before we start looking at every surface as one carrying ads, before claiming that any shopping bag should have a creative element to it (And that bags with just logos on them are just from the “reclame” era)… Such is the danger with new media, suddenly, we will launch into uncharted territory when everything becomes a potential medium to advertise on, and failure to do so would be sub-optimal use of the creative powers of the agency and a lack of planning from the marketing department. Just like we now fail to see “Abou Tony” handwritten banner, soon, even the funkiest ad from the newest medium will also elude us. Maybe, if new media were less in denial about their work, if they were less ambivalent about their message, they would be more ambient.
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