Cybernaut 

A matter of good taste

In the marketing world, it’s known as synergy – bringing together a variety of different mediums to relentlessly market products or concepts, while surrounding the consumer with ads that work at every level, both subtle and not-so-subtle. A lot of the time you’re not even aware that you’re looking at an ad.

An obvious product shot strategically placed in a movie is one example – your mind is aware of the brand name at some level even if it doesn’t distract you from the movie itself. When you leave the movie you’re guaranteed to encounter billboards, bus ads, magazine inserts and other placements that will only reinforce the hidden movie ad you just saw.

The goal is to make us dream of products the same way we can dream about our daily lives, to break down the barriers that separate the ad world from the real world, and to rewire us to consume as mindlessly as we drive, eat, and go through our daily routines.

Most of the time we don’t notice this synergy at work, but occasionally we stumble upon ads so obvious or so tasteless that we have no choice but to sit up and take notice.

The most recent example I’ve found is on the Toronto Star Web site (www.thestar.com). I grew up in Hog Town and most of my family still lives there, and I like to check in occasionally to see how things are doing and make sure my friends are staying out of trouble. So far most of them are.

The lead story recently has been Cecilia Zhang, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped last October for reasons unknown, and found dead last week.

It’s was an abomination, the kind of story that gives a city nightmare and that will deeply affect her family and friends for their whole lives.

Still, that didn’t stop an advertising gadget from trying to capitalize on the tragedy.

Along the right hand side of the Web page, in a column marked "Ads by Google", they were links to purchase print posters by the artist B.J. Zheng, to the Hua Chen Fine Art Gallery which carries B.J. Zheng originals, and a link to the homepage of Washington-based interviewer Yeeli Hua Zheng.

What the Google ad feature does is comb through the text of a news story you select in an attempt to match the subject matter with links to paid Google subscriber. If you read a story about the Maple Leafs, for example, the Google ad could feature links to stores selling hats and jerseys, collector shops, and the team’s homepage.

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