Psst…Buy This…Now!

Here’s a way to put a bug in someone’s ear. Is it a great new marketing technique, or really, really creepy? The Boston Globe has the story.

Marketers around the world are using innovative audio technology that sends sound in a narrow beam, just like light, making it possible to direct messages right into consumers’ ears while they shop or sit in waiting rooms.
The audio spotlight device, created by Watertown firm Holosonic Research Labs Inc., has been used to hawk everything from cereals in supermarket aisles to glasses at doctor’s offices. The messages are often quick and targeted — and a little creepy to the uninitiated.
Court TV recently installed the audio spotlight in ceilings of bookstores to promote the network’s new murder-mystery show. A voice, whispering, “Hey, you, can you hear me? Do you ever think about murder?” was beamed toward customers as they browsed the mystery section in several independent bookstores in New York.

Has anyone heard of this before? How come the Globe article is the first I’ve heard of it? I can imagine it’s very, very effective, but frankly, if a marketer sent me some creepy message while I was shopping and I didn’t like it, I’d go ballistic.
A little restraint will be necessary. Just because marketers can do something doesn’t mean they should.
UPDATE: Greg Harris at Mobivity found this demonstration. Forget the cheeky British voiceover and cute library demo; put this in the hands of a ethically challenged Marketing Director and it’ll be super-creepy.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Wow, is this for real?
    As a mobile marketing company, we take very seriously the concept of “permission”. Messages are never sent to a consumer’s phone without them initiating the relationship.
    This is just plain nuts! This thing is whispering in my ear? My biggest fear in life is that I will start hearing voices. This is going to drive some people over the edge.
    It’s either the most brilliant marketing idea around, or the ultimate invasion of your privacy. We’re only one step from beaming thoughts into the consumer’s head.

  2. An entire you’ve been pimped kind of show could be built around this. For some reason, people tend to take disembodied voices very seriously.

  3. We’ve been working with this technology for a number of years and have tested it in lots of places. For example, we did an in-maill project for Sunsilk last year. We also attached one to a billboard in San Francisco, but the people there already had enough voices in their head. Holler if you want to experience it firsthand!