Home > Miscellaneous, Politico > The Future of Marketing, Part One: Audio Spotlighting

The Future of Marketing, Part One: Audio Spotlighting

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

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After watching a movie a couple years ago (can’t remember which one, probably Air Bud 2) I was jiving down the sidewalk in rhythm to the Commodores’  Machine Gun (the hip-grinder from Boogie Nights) when I looked up and saw a monolithic face rushing toward me out of the sky. It was a holographic billboard advertisement for the new A&E series Paranormal State. When I got home I looked it up and read about their even more audacious advertising scheme in New York.

A&E was also promoting their new series by utilizing a technology called “audio spotlighting”.  In NYC, on Prince Street, as people walked by a billboard for the show, a voice in their heads whispered, “It’s not your imagination. Who is that? Who’s there?”

Traditionally used by libraries and museums, audio spotlighting transmits beams of sound onto specific targets the same way a light bulb projects rays of light. While it seems like the voice is speaking directly in your mind, it is actually just reverberating outside your skull. Holosonics President and founder Joe Pompei says the technology will help cut down on excessive noise in crowded city areas like Time Square. The technology has attracted criticism from groups like the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (cognitiveliberty.org), who charge the technology violates the individual’s right “to have decision-making authority over matters affecting his or her mind.”

I spoke with Pompei about whether his audio spotlighting technology, when used in marketing campaigns, qualifies as subliminal advertising. He dismissed this as propaganda disseminated by his detractors, or the “tin-foil hat paranoids”. Anyone who actually understands the technology, he says, knows there is nothing malicious going on. The debate is likely just the opening salvo for a new civil rights battle over mental privacy. The CCLE also points out  “neuro-marketing” organizations like the BrightHouse Institute in Atlanta as violating mental privacy. BrightHouse uses MRI scanning to decode patterns in people’s thought processes and devise custom-tailored advertising schemes.

this is your brain on advertising

If traditional advertisements compete through noise and glare to get our attention, will replacing them with quieter, more surreptitious advertisements (such as ones beamed into our heads) make the public sphere less of a madhouse? Or are we simply making it easier for marketers to reach us?

What’s to stop a company or government agency from shining an audio spotlight on your front lawn, or your bedroom window, or the driver’s side door of your car?

Instead of having to trash those annoying flyers on your windshield in the morning you may find yourself humming loudly to drown out the voices in your head.


  1. March 10, 2011 at 4:37 am

    Jake’s article alerting us to audio spotlighting marketing makes me wonder how this technique will commingle with our economically declining society as unemployment and under-employment, stripping of government workers’ bargaining rights, and a narrowing of the middle class is the new status quo. If “they” just don’t interrupt our dinner as they have every night this week with the need to sell us a home security system, maybe this subtle, quiet technique would be less annoying, if more lethal. Jake’s phrase “mental privacy” speaks volumes.

  2. jakeofthefoliage
    March 10, 2011 at 7:37 am

    That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about how advertising would alter itself technologically according to the economy. But yeah, in general I would say mental privacy is the civil liberties movement of the future.

  1. December 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm
  2. December 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm
  3. September 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm

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