After predicting direct-to-brain advertising years ago, Scott G takes a look at the latest schemes to beam advertising and marketing communication inside your skull.

It seems like science fiction or the kind of thing mental patients scream about: “I hear messages in my head!” But it will be happening to you very soon.

The technology to beam audio communication directly into your cranium is already available from two companies. American Technology Corporation (“Shaping the future of sound”), and Holosonic Research Lab (“Put sound where you want it”), have two different systems but both quietly blast messages into your mind.

San Diego-based American Technology Corporation (ATC) offers the HyperSonic system, while Massachusetts’ Holosonic Research Lab (HRL) features Audio Spotlight, and both are in operation across a wide range of applications, including museum exhibits, trade show displays, kiosks, waiting rooms and billboards.

Shhh: We’re Broadcasting
Let’s use a museum as an example of how they work. You step up to view an artwork and your presence activates the audio broadcast. But the sonics are so well-directed that they can only be audible where you’re standing. Other people in the room wouldn’t hear what you’re hearing. In fact, they could be listening to other aural material that you wouldn’t experience unless you entered the proper geographic area.

ATC has a section of their Web site devoted to military applications of their products, including the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) which may be used to generate an “attention-getting and highly irritating deterrent tone for behavior modification.”

In a way, quite a bit of marketing and communications can be viewed as attempts at behavior modification, and now the industry has some new tools.

I had been following ATC and HRL since 2001, and I put ATC and their Hypersonic Sound System in my song, “Paranormal Radio” (from the 2003 album ELECTRO BOP):

“Paranormal Radio is what we call a direct-to-brainpan transmission. That means our sounds emanate from American Technology Corporation’s HyperSonic Sound System and go straight into your head.” Some DJs thought I was ranting about something I read in a Philip K. Dick novel instead of the stark reality of the day.

Then, in the article that launched this column a couple of years ago, you will find the following paragraph:

“American Technology Corporation’s HyperSonic Sound system and Holosonics’ Audio Spotlight are perfecting the ability to direct audio messages to individuals passing nearby. So, for example, based on the RFID chip in your purchases, each person in a checkout line would hear a different ad.”

A couple weeks later, in a column about “Advertainment,” I wrote:

“We’re not even discussing the opportunities for advertainment once we move beyond traditional broadcast methodology; when microchips are embedded under your skin, YOU will be the receiver for TV, radio, satellite, telephone, and global positioning system signals.”

Dreadful Combo
It’s the combination of three elements that alarms me and should alarm every professional in the communications business.

1. The proliferation of ad messages into every single thing (and now, it seems, into every single person)

2. The use of RFID-like technology to track and recognize consumers and their purchasing patterns

3. The willingness of corporations to take control of what up until now was your own private space: the inside of your head.

The use of in-skull advertising may open up a whole batch of legal and moral issues. Consider:

* Parents beaming messages at their children (“Clean up your room,” “Piercings and tattoos are bad,” “Call your mother’s new boyfriend ‘Uncle,'” and the like).

* Prisons “motivating” inmates with sound that rewards them (Slipknot, Jay-Z) or punishes them (Josh Groban, Gwen Stefani).

* Clerics instructing the next generation (“Yes, Timmy, God wants you to do this.”)

* Auto dealerships pushing undercoating and extended warranties by recording customer conversations and playing back “buy now” messages in their own voices.

And you thought that episode of The Simpsons with Bart in a boy band sponsored by the U.S. Navy was a spoof on subliminal advertising. “Yvan eht nioj” indeed. As you can see, your own mind isn’t safe anymore. What comes next? Probably your soul.

[tags]ATC, American Technology Corporation, HyperSonic, HRL, Holosonic Research Lab, Audio Spotlight, advertising, mind control, RFID, advertainment, Simpsons, Slipknot, Jay-Z, Josh Groban, Gwen Stefani, Navy[/tags]