Advertisements should stay on paper, out of mind

By Lauren Kelly

As I was riding the Blue Island CTA bus the other day, I heard a loud announcement interrupt the music I was listening to. It wasn’t the usual CTA guy announcing important information about the bus route or a detour, so I took out my headphones to hear what was being said. I was stunned by what I heard. Blaring through the bus was an advertisement promoting the bid for the Olympic Games in Chicago—and it played once every 20 minutes.

I started paying attention to the saturation and scale of advertisements a few years ago, but this one was new for me, and I believed it crossed a line. Our society has become accustomed to endless print ads, billboards and even commercials, which I understand are somewhat necessary for businesses to function. But new ways of advertising, such as audio announcements, are invasive.

This so-called creative advertising has gotten out of control and is polluting our mental environment in ways we cannot yet comprehend. The real problem I have with audio ads, such as the one I heard on the CTA, is that there is no option of whether to consume them. You can’t ignore ads anymore; they have been woven into the fabric of our everyday experience. Plain print ads can be pretty easy to gloss over because you can just divert your attention by looking elsewhere. But new forms of ads, both more subtle and overt, invade the personal space of the consumer.

A subtle way companies are selling products is by making them blend into the existing surroundings. Some pay young artists to spray paint a graffiti ad, manipulating and somewhat nullifying the importance of the existing art form that is typically seen as anti-establishment.

One example of a seriously troubling, overt method of advertising appeared recently in Entertainment Weekly magazine distributed in Los Angeles and New York City. The magazine printed an ad that included a small video screen tucked into a cardboard insert, looping video and audio commercials that play when the magazine is opened, much like audio recordings in greeting cards.

According to a Sept. 17 article from, the video device, made by the L.A.-based company Americhip, can hold 40 minutes of video and has rechargeable batteries.

After hearing about this I was reminded of a “Futurama” episode where Fry realizes there are ads infiltrating his dreams to sell him “Lightspeed Briefs.”

There were ads in the 20th century, he said, but “only on TV and radio … and magazines and movies … and at ball games, on buses, milk cartons, T-shirts, bananas and written on the sky. But not in dreams! No sir-ee.”

Not only are the video screen ads in print publications loud and intrusive, but they have a large environmental impact. Instead of recyclable paper, the magazine becomes electronic waste. The resources and labor involved in producing small electronics and then disposing of them in a short amount of time is completely unnecessary.

To be honest, I’m scared of where ads will go in the near future if no regulations are imposed. The pace of technological advancement will bring the barely imaginable into reality within our lifetime. We could see things like moving images on product packaging by using things like the digital ink Esquire magazine employed on its 75th anniversary cover. It may seem far-off, but we could even personalize ads that follow our eye movements.

More cities should create limits or bans on outdoor advertisements, such as the movement in São Paulo. That city took drastic measures to limit invasive outdoor ads, creating a virtually ad-free city in September of 2006.

Invasive advertisements, especially ones that create electronic waste, should be eliminated. They are fueling an economic system that is running on empty. Instead of being saturated with messages telling us to consume, we should be looking at ways to stop buying so much and use less of Earth’s resources.