Clean Oil: when ads at the movies stop being merely banal …

So I took my daughter to see the latest Harry Potter instalment yesterday at the downtown MegaGigantoPlex.

If you’ve been to the movies in the last decade, then you know what it’s like: hyperstimulation to the point of sensory overload, too much sugar, empty calories, and more life-size tchatchkes than you can shake a Big Slushy at. And that’s before you even get to your seat. (Naturally, we chose to see it in IMAX, so you can take everything and crank it up by a factor of ten.)

The other unavoidable part, of course, is ads up the yin-yang before the movie starts. (In my naivete, I used to think that escaping from commercials was one of the reasons you went to the movies, but whatever.) Most of them are sort of like background noise: milk, cellphones, milk, bumf for soon-to-be-released singles from the flavour of the week, milk, tech toys, and did I mention milk? There’s usually a PSA or two in the mix, along with the reminder to turn your cellphones off. Mainly harmless stuff, in other words, that lets you turn your brain off and just be a consumer. (I know. Shocking.)

But just when you let your guard down … a PR spot for Clean Oil, full of frolicking caribou, crystal clear rivers, happy birds, and soothing reassurances that ethical energy extraction isn’t about the tar sands at all. (I think I might have heard Kumbaya on the soundtrack, but maybe they were just pumping soma vapour into the theatre or something.) Forget about those giant open pits larger than Britain, and those reports of polluted water and sickness in aboriginal communities. It’s all clean and environmentally friendly. Look, we’ve got happy caribou! Check us out at!

Well, you can’t argue with marketing, and I’m sure there are reams of studies, focus groups and research suggesting that this is a good way of getting the message across, and that this is a particularly receptive audience in just the right demographic. But it does underline the need to retain our faculty for critical thought, and our identities as citizens and not just consumers.

Sent from my BlackBerry

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