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Why Spielberg's Vision is Flawed
Jul 01, 2002 :: Michael Sippey

Thanks to brilliant special effects and the just-this-side-of-unbelievable product placements, it's easy to get sucked in to what Steven Spielberg is selling in his new film Minority Report: a world where nearly 100% of your attention is consumed nearly 100% of the time by marketing. Aquafina, Lexus, Guiness, Reebok, Pepsi, Bulgari and American Express are all represented here in an oversaturated, billboard-sized, full-motion hyper-personalized marketing hell.

But what Spielberg and his esteemed futurist braintrust drawn from GBN seemed to miss was any countervailing force; they took it for granted that (a) consumers would roll over and accept this kind of marketing, and that (b) product marketers would actually find this kind of messaging effective.

First, consumer response. I find it hard to believe that consumers wouldn't actively resist (read: pay to resist) the intrusive marketing depicted in the film. If you take the current response to spam as a proxy for the environment in 2054, it's clear that there's a market for tools to reduce uninvited messages -- otherwise Brightmail, McAfee and Cloudmark wouldn't be betting their futures on it. In 2054, your retinas might be useful as subway token proxies, but not as an open passkey to your own personalized no-opt hell.

Second, marketer response. Even leaving aside any optimistic notion that marketers would find intrusive, personalized billboards counter-productive or even damaging to their brand (wouldn't you just start talking back to the billboards? "No, I don't need a Guiness right now...leave me the f*** alone!"), technology would presumably have evolved to support not only highly personalized marketing messages, but highly personalized products.

Bear with me for a minute. Assume continued decreasing costs of production (thanks to all those robots). Assume continued increases in information technology (and not just in glass displays and gestural user interfaces). Assume increased efficiency of distribution and logistics (thanks to those nifty vertical cars and hyper-urbanization). Assume all of those and you're well on your way to some sort of 1:1 product landscape, where it's not the marketing message that's personalized, it's the product itself.

All of which is just a convoluted way of wondering why the virtual sales rep at The Gap asks Anderton if he needs a new pair of khakis -- wouldn't they already know, and replenished him with a pair cut from his favorite fabric, fit to his (now 40 year-old) physique, and dyed to complement the rest of his wardrobe?

The removable storage devices should have been the first clue: Minority Report is not a networked future. Spielberg's vision of the future is, essentially, television writ large, with a frosty layer of "Hello, <REPLACE>" sprinkled on top. And while it may make for great dystopian eye candy, it treats consumers, marketers -- and our evolving technology landscape -- with disrespect.



Other pieces about personalization: