Stimulating Captivity

imagesAt the beginning of the most recent Star Wars, I was bombarded with 20 minutes of big budgeted, psychologically seductive commercials; larger then life and quite spellbinding.

Such a preshow is commonplace. Companies are spending millions to dazzle us, and hopefully mesmorize us, into buying their products.

Captivated by the big screen and the loud HD sound, a preshow finds us vulnerable to the brainwashing of marketing professionals… a caged audience conveniently pre-sorted by age and interests. If we try avoiding this by showing up just before the movie starts, its already dark, everyone else is seated, we risk disturbing others wrestling for a seat, and chance missing an interesting trailer. And all that if you are able to time it correctly.

When preshow advertising hit stride several years back, I was the crazed one booing in the middle-row left aisle seat. Occasionally inciting a small but satisfying chorus of like-minded objectors. And I was not the only protestor. Other disgruntled movie goers have made attempts to sue their local theatre (none I’ve heard were successful and at least one still in court). And there are a variety of protest web sites.

Nonetheless, despite such objection, preshow advertising is here to stay. The income has become “an important part of a theater chains’ bottom line” (Forbes 2010). Looking back to the start of this media venue (about 15+ years), US estimates of annual income were 250 million dollars. Growing by huge percentages each year. By 2013 it was estimated in another US study that this had risen to 600 million.

According to one marketing agency, this form of advertising garners 7x times the recall as TV commercials. They were pitching, “When you look at the data, Cinema Advertising is what marketers call the gift that keeps on giving.”

Undergirding this rhetoric, surveys show that we are becoming increasingly accustomed to sitting through these preshow manipulations. And experience suggests that this form of marketing we will gain the same admiration as the acclaimed and established commercials during big game football. These latter marketing tactics have become so popular they are pre-released on YouTube.

Unfortunately, there is a psychological and spiritual cost to all this stimulation. And it has to do with being almost hypnotically controlled to consider products that we may not otherwise consider. Though we may quickly snap out of our daze when those enticing images stop floating in front us, we need ask how much rubs off? How much sensitizing (and desensitizing) happens? How much subliminal dribble have we taken in? Some ads are even focused on changing our values and priorities. Scary stuff considering how many times we take our children to the movies.

I don’t want to overstate this, or lose you in some psycho-spiritual babble. But who can deny that our choices and ideals are, at least, a little controlled by various forms of media. And who doesn’t want to have some control over this?

As I see it, a commercial preshow in a theatre does not give us that choice (if we want to enjoy the big screen experience). We are being used and abused…as well as amused. At the very least, let us be just a little annoyed. If not, we risk becoming complete zombies. Entertained into submission by this stimulating captivity. And in one more way, forced to compromise our integrity.

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