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First pop-up ads, now "friendvertising"

Rob Walker

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: Think of how many times you go to read an article online and the next thing you know there's an ad playing on your computer screen. Then it's a frantic search for where to click to X it out. People who want to sell us things are always thinking up new ways to get our attention. But commentator Rob Walker says now it's getting personal.


Rob Walker: Everybody complains about advertising. But lately, advertisers have actually been paying attention. Apparently, they've gotten hip to the idea that most of us say we're less influenced by ads than by our "trusted friends." So, the new goal is to convert our trusted friends -- or at least people we know -- into an advertising medium.

Here's an example of what I mean: Marketers for Nip/Tuck, a TV show about plastic surgeons, have created a Facebook application designed to encourage users to pit their own attractiveness against that of their friends. The idea is the application spreads from friend to friend and promotes Nip/Tuck as it goes. Another gimmick for the show allows you to use audio files of Nip/Tuck characters to create a custom message telling your friends what kind of plastic surgery you think they need. You then leave that message on your pal's voicemail. Like so:

Voice machine: Robert, don't worry. We can help you. Your dreams have been hotter than the competition. ...and looking like a rock star are just a nip and a tuck away.

Some ad guru types call this "friendvertising." Maybe you wouldn't feel so friendly after getting that plastic surgery voicemail, but we all know one jerk with access to our cell phone number or Facebook profile who thinks this kind of stuff is hilarious. So, maybe we should really call this new marketing form "jerkvertising."

But, let's face it, at some point you've probably gotten an e-mail from an actual trusted friend pointing you to a funny video or Web site that you just have to check out. And maybe it really is funny, but often it's also an ad for something.

You and I might have mixed feelings about friendvertising, or jerkvertising, but marketers love it. They can finally stop pestering us with their dubious claims, and let all of our friends do it for them.

Jablonski: Rob Walker writes the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine. His book, "Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are," will be published in June.

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