Advertisers are determined to get into your head by one means or
another, and Holosonic Research Labs has found yet another way of invading your privacy
in the name of forcing you pay attention. You’re walking down a street
in New York when all of a sudden, a woman’s voice whispers ‘Who’s that?
Who’s There?’ No, you weren’t having a psychotic episode; you were
being subjected without your permission to ‘sound in a narrow beam, just like light.

New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last
week when she heard a woman’s voice right in her ear asking, "Who’s
there? Who’s there?" She looked around to find no one in her immediate
surroundings. Then the voice said, "It’s not your imagination."

No, he's not crazy: Our intrepid reporter Andrew
Hampp ventures to SoHo to hear for himself the technology that has New Yorkers 'freaked out' and A&E buzzing.

No, he’s not crazy: Our intrepid reporter Andrew
Hampp ventures to SoHo to hear for himself the technology that has New Yorkers ‘freaked out’ and A&E buzzing.

Photo Credit: Yoray Liberman

Indeed it isn’t. It’s an ad for "Paranormal State," a ghost-themed
series premiering on A&E this week. The billboard uses technology
manufactured by Holosonic that transmits an "audio spotlight" from a
rooftop speaker so that the sound is contained within your cranium. The
technology, ideal for museums and libraries or environments that
require a quiet atmosphere for isolated audio slideshows, has rarely
been used on such a scale before. For random passersby and residents
who have to walk unwittingly through the area where the voice will
penetrate their inner peace, it’s another story.

Ms. Wilson, a New York-based stylist, said she expected the
voice inside her head to be some type of creative project but could see
how others might perceive it differently, particularly on a late-night
stroll home. "I might be a little freaked out, and I wouldn’t
necessarily think it’s coming from that billboard," she said.

Less-intrusive approach?

Joe Pompei, president and founder of
Holosonics, said the creepy approach is key to drawing attention to
A&E’s show. But, he noted, the technology was designed to avoid
adding to noise pollution. "If you really want to annoy a lot of
people, a loudspeaker is the best way to do it," he said. "If you set
up a loudspeaker on the top of a building, everybody’s going to hear
that noise. But if you’re only directing that sound to a specific
viewer, you’re never going to hear a neighbor complaint from street
vendors or pedestrians. The whole idea is to spare other people."

Holosonics has partnered with a cable network once before,
when Court TV implemented the technology to promote its "Mystery
Whisperer" in the mystery sections of select bookstores. Mr. Pompei
said the company also has tested retail deployments in grocery stores
with Procter & Gamble and Kraft for customized audio messaging. So
a customer, for example, looking to buy laundry detergent could
suddenly hear the sound of gurgling water and thus feel compelled to
buy Tide as a result of the sonic experience.

Mr. Pompei contends that the technology will take time for
consumers to get used to, much like the lights on digital signage and
illuminated billboards did when they were first used. The website
Gawker posted an item
about the billboard last week with the headline "Schizophrenia is the
new ad gimmick," and asked "How soon will it be until in addition to
the do-not-call list, we’ll have a ‘do not beam commercial messages
into my head’ list?"

"There’s going to be a certain population sensitive to it. But
once people see what it does and hear for themselves, they’ll see it’s
effective for getting attention," Mr. Pompei said.

More disruptions

A&E’s $3 million to $5 million campaign
for "Paranormal" includes other more disruptive elements than just the
one audio ad in New York. In Los Angeles, a mechanical face creeps out
of a billboard as if it’s coming toward the viewer, and then recedes.
In print, the marketing team persuaded two print players to surrender a
full editorial page to their ads, flipping the gossip section in AM New
York upside down and turning a page in this week’s Parade into a
checkerboard of ads for "Paranormal."

AM New York's gossip page got turned upside down as promo.

AM New York’s gossip page got turned upside down as promo.

It’s not the network’s first foray into supernatural marketing, having
launched a successful viral campaign for "Mind Freak" star Criss Angel
earlier this year that allowed users to trick their friends into
thinking Mr. Angel was reading their mind via YouTube.

"We all know what you need to do for one of these shows is get
people talking about them," said Guy Slattery, A&E’s exec
VP-marketing. "It shouldn’t be pure informational advertising. When we
were talking about marketing the show, nearly everyone had a connection
with a paranormal experience, and that was a surprise to us. So we
really tried to base the whole campaign on people’s paranormal

So was it a ghost or just an annoyed resident who stole the
speaker from the SoHo billboard twice in one day last week? Horizon
Media, which helped place the billboard, had to find a new device that
would prevent theft from its rooftop location. Mr. Pompei only takes it
as a compliment that someone would go to the trouble of stealing his
technology, but hopes consumer acceptance comes with time. "The sound
isn’t rattling your skull, it’s not penetrating you, it’s not doing
anything nefarious at all. It’s just like having a flashlight vs. a
light bulb," he said.

Via Advertising Age