I never saw “Paranormal Activity” but I hear it was quite a scary flick. I read about it in my favourite magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and I had a few friends who saw it. I was also targeted with a couple of facebook ads, each using a different method to try to get me to shell out $10 to be really scared. Those aspiring advertisers out there will quickly recognise the classic techniques: the carrot, and the stick.
Here we have the carrot. The imperative is “Don’t Miss Paranormal,” implying that there is a danger of missing something if you don’t see this movie–but what will you miss? The picture shows an attractive girl, eyes wide and mouth agape. Maybe she is in the middle of gasping in fear. But she might just as easily be in the middle of an orgasm. In that case, someone definitely hit the spot, rather than missing it. This carrot should help entice a certain type of movie-viewer to do as the ad commands and “get their friends together.” (fans of ad psychology will note that this wording has a strange sort of familiarity–perhaps tapping some latent, pre-adolescent spice girls sentiment; “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” Does that blow your mind? It shouldn’t. These advertisers know their s**t.)
Here we have the stick. More aggressive from the outset, this ad tells me to “grab [my] friends.” While the orgasmic carrot girl could be similarly captioned, the picture would imply that a different kind of grabbing was going on. This picture, instead, depicts of scene of discomfort and agony. The prominent figure is the woman at left; not unattractive per se, but certainly no orgasmic carrot girl. Her eyes have a demonic glow; it could be that the photographer didn’t use red-eye reduction technology, but perhaps she herself is paranormal(!). Her hands are cupped near her mouth, as though she is preparing to shout something at the top of her lungs. Then again, maybe she is preparing to go Linda Blair and is attempting to direct the impending onrush of green slime towards a particular moviegoer in front of her. The man, center, has covered his mouth as though he himself is ready to vomit; his eyes aren’t gleaming with the fires of hell, however, so he is polite enough to attempt to stifle the gastric convulsion instead of focusing its outbound trajectory. The other woman in the picture, presumably the “friend” of devil-woman, is wearing dark glasses and is covering her ears, an uncomfortable grimace on her face. She seems determined to see no evil and hear no evil. And, since: (1) talking during a movie is rude behaviour, and (2) her mouth is closed, we can infer that she also plans to speak no evil. In light of this, it is difficult to tell exactly who grabbed who before this awful event. Who would want to suffer through such hell on earth? As the saying goes, misery loves company. This threatening visual is accompanied with the ominous “Don’t see it alone,” instead of the friendly encouragement to get together with your friends. The threat of joining this picture of pain without the comfort of friends is a stick indeed.
There you have it: the carrot and stick at work in facebook ads. Perhaps someday soon we’ll look at good-cop/bad-cop. But not right now. I have this strange urge to go download “Wannabe.”
(if you have a similar desire, start with this extensive treatment of the song. I’m pretty sure most Nobel Laureates don’t have such a thorough wikipedia page.)