Train Windows Vibrate Ad Messages Into Passengers’ Brains

Jul 03, 2013

Many of us know the feeling. Traveling on a train or a bus after a long day, leaning your head on the glass and letting the gentle rocking lull you to sleep. Well, if BBDO Düsseldorf has its way, you can forget about that because it has developed a new technology using a transmitter that sends messages to your brain to be converted into sound. No one else around you can hear it, but you’re hearing voices in your head.

The technology known as "bone conduction" is currently used by deaf people and the military. Bone conduction hearing aids are implanted to bypass middle ear issues that leave people deaf. BBDO sees it as a new media channel to reach consumers.

[Image: The talking window]

A quick look at the video demonstrating the technology shows passengers falling asleep on a train. One young woman, slightly startled as she begins to doze off, takes her head off the window when she hears the voice, cutting the connection to the message. Others put their heads to the window to listen to the message, but none seem to have that, "This is so cool!" moment in the process.

What is your reaction to bone conduction technology being used on mass transit to send commercial messages to consumers? Do you see other uses for the technology that consumers would accept?

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12 Comments on "Train Windows Vibrate Ad Messages Into Passengers’ Brains"

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Steve Montgomery

I know individuals for whom the use of this technology (bone conduction) has been a great thing. It has allowed the them to hear or hear better. That being said, I think its use as an advertising tool is creepy and invasive.

Cathy Hotka

We’ve finally developed a way to make commuting even more annoying!

Delivering a message to a consumer doesn’t ensure a positive response. For confirmation, ask families whose home phone rings at dinner time. What’s next, “talking” seats?

Ed Dunn
4 years 2 months ago

Great way to convince competitive bidders vying to rent the Manhattan apartment you want the place is haunted…another good use is the Las Vegas casino sending messages to bet on 21…

Rick Moss

In April, we discussed an ad campaign from Pizza Hut that targets gamers while they’re engaged with an Xbox controller. That was lauded as an effort that perfectly matched content with context and demographics.

The application of this new technology, seems to me, presents a textbook case for mismatching the occasion with the technique. Just at the point that that passengers are trying to relax, the ad disturbs them. This was very poorly conceived.

Ian Percy
You haven’t seen anything yet. Every chance I get in this forum I’ve raised the role of energy and frequencies often muttering to myself about why “retail” just doesn’t get it. Nikola Tesla, arguably one of the greatest minds ever, said: “If you want to know the secrets of the universe (or of retail success) look to energy, frequency and vibration.” Okay, I added the parenthesis myself but you get the point. Without judging whether or not vibrating windows are a good idea, I can assert that what you’re reading about here is low hanging fruit when it comes to what we’re able to do with energy, frequencies & vibration. It is not a case of whether consumers “accept” it or not – we ourselves are energy, a frequency if you will. And everything we interact with is a frequency too. It’s how the universe works. You can’t turn it off, you can only learn to use it. The greatest possibilities of our lives and our work will be revealed when we finally understand and accept this reality. Einstein said that if you match the frequency of the reality you want you cannot help but have that reality. “There is… Read more »
Herb Sorensen

There is nothing particularly “wrong” with this technology, just because we have become accustomed to massive assaults on our senses, primarily through the eyes and ears, and to a lesser extent through the more “intimate” senses, the nose, mouth and touch. This use of “touch” will represent some special challenges, primarily in distinguishing background (perhaps soft music) from messages that the hearer will not revolt against — more of the ubiquitous SPAM that floods our commercial bath. I’ve written on this for the “Wharton Advertising 2020 program.”

Paula Rosenblum

Is it April Fools Day or July 4? Bone conduction technology to send commercial messages? Yikes. Well, happily, apart from airplanes, I avoid mass transit at almost all costs.

I don’t think it gets much creepier than this.

Carlos Arambula

It’s a great technology and I can think of multiple uses for marketing. However, given the public’s well-placed apprehension of invasive messaging, the format and introduction of the technology has to be very well planned and positioned as branded entertainment or information.

Like many of the entertainment screens found in public, people have to stand in queue or wait (as in an airport lounge or public transportation). Many would welcome the advertising messages if they could also hear music, comedy, news, the weather, or the location of the next train stop.

Lee Kent

You could tell by the expressions of the people that they didn’t like the unexpected invasion. Isn’t that the big deal with technology today? It puts the control in our hands so we can decide what, where, when and how we will be invaded?

Today’s young people, especially, don’t like advertising for advertising’s sake. Or marketing for marketing’s sake. A cool video of their choosing, yes. A great deal on a product, yes. Enter my mind uninvited, not so much!!!

Craig Sundstrom

Dr. Frankenstein, get back in the lab! A number of people here seem to like it, though, so I guess they can have the window seat. I’m getting off the train.

Kai Clarke

Terrible. We need to have relief from advertising in many of our environments, including trains (or planes) or even taxis. This is taking the ability to deliver a message too far.

Alexander Rink
4 years 2 months ago

Although this is perhaps a very innovative idea, I am as yet undecided about the ethics of it. When I first heard of it, it immediately brought to mind “subliminal messaging” in television, with similar questions about its ethics and effectiveness. When it came to TV, subliminal messaging was outlawed in many countries (like the UK and Australia) and frowned upon in most others (like the US). Furthermore, studies like the one done by Smith and Rogers (Effectiveness of subliminal messages in television commercials, Journal of Applied Psychology, Volume 79 (6)) found that the use of subliminal messages in advertising actually had a negative effect on brand recall.

Perhaps if the technology could be used like a radio station, and users could choose to a) turn it off and/or b) tune the “channel” they were listening to (and consequently could listen to messages other than ads), they (or at least I) would be more receptive to the implementation of this technology.


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