the Little Red Reviewer

the future of advertising + science fiction = ?

Posted on: April 30, 2019

Advertising told through Science Fiction?


I was smart, and downloaded WAY more hours of podcasts than I’d need to get myself to Maryland and back,  so now I’m working my way through the thumb drive to see what’s good and what will get deleted.


I like science-y podcasts.  I don’t need Great Courses Astrophysics,  pop-science is more than adequate for my commute.


Today’s commute included an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, titled “This is Your Brain on Ads”.  the podcast included a short history of advertising, like radio jingles,  fun mascots for sugary kid’s cereals, product placement in TV shows and radio,  superbowl ads, all the way to instagram influencers. There was mention that children grow out of being easily influenced by about age 13, and younger than that and they really are convinced that Lucky Charms is part of a balanced breakfast.  There was mention that the Superbowl can charge so much for ads because sports fans are the most loyal group of consumers.


There was an aside about MTV’s The Real World. Remember that show? It birthed the reality tv show phenomenon.  MTV had zero budget, and needed a TV show (otherwise they were going to have to show sportsball), so they got a bunch of regular people who were willing to work for a whole lotta attention/fame/exposure, and not a lot of money.  All the advertising that MTV sold that ran during that show was pure profit, because it cost them hardly anything to make the show.


There was a discussion of how our attention has value, and that our attention can be monetized.


And often we have zero control over how we respond to advertising.  It has nothing to do with willpower (ok, maybe a little), but the advertising companies have figured out through trial, error, and studies, what exactly will make you keep watching that stupid infomercial.


And that got me thinking.


Science fiction is really good at taking relatively normal near-future things – genetically modified pets, using robots as caregivers for people with dementia, inescapable closed circuit tv,  the dark side of social media and making your living as an instagram influencer, catching criminals, first contact with aliens, getting back to the Moon, the list is endless, because science fiction knows no bounds.


So what does a science fiction story that deals with the monetization of your attention look like?  What might it look like from the person who is buying or brokering your attention, what might it look like from the person whose attention is being purchased and monetized?  what will the future of advertising look like, through a science fiction lens?


Advertising + science fiction = ??


A title that comes to mind right away is Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance, and 2007’s Grey by Jon Armstrong (which I feel would read as horribly dated now?).


What titles come to mind for you?


What might a science fiction author do with the prompt “what would advertising and monetization of consumer’s attention in the future look like?”


10 Responses to "the future of advertising + science fiction = ?"

Mmm, interesting – the thing that immediately springs to mind is They Live – wasn’t there something in the original movie, not sure if it was in the book, where subliminal messages were being sent through regular advertisements/programmes?
Lynn 😀


Ok, now you’ve convinced me to see/read They Live! it’s horror tho, right? I’m a total fraidy-cat, i’ll have to watch it in broad daylight with all the lights turned on, like i had to for Bird Box.

subliminal messaging is terrifying. makes zombies and the monster under the bed look like nothing.


Flash, by L. E. Modesit, Jr., deals with advertising in a future setting. A lot in it about product placement, the use of music/sound to influence potential customers’ perceptions, etc. Strange book (as just about everything by that author is) but very interesting.


I am woefully under read with Modesit, and you got my attention with “strange book”. I’ll keep an eye out for this one. Did you ever see the movie The Truman Show? that has a lot of product placement and influencial sounds as well. I’ve seen the movie maybe 10 times because I love it, and I still can’t tell if the product placement is meant to be satirical or not.

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I saw The Truman Show once, and although I don’t recall a lot of the details, I’d guess that the product placement and whatnot in the “show” were definitely intended to be satirical, as the entire concept of the movie was satire about reality television, etc.

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In Minority Report (the movie) the characters got advertising based on their retina scans. Anderson had to change his retinas so he got advertising aimed at the person who had the eyes before. But he was moving through a shopping mall (or something) at the time. I really hope we can’t do that in the real world. Or that the advertising agencies aren’t allowed to.


Yes! I remember that scene in the movie! he’s walking into a clothing store, and it scans his eyes and asks something weird like “how did you like those t-shirts you bought last time”. When that movie came out, that kind of advertising was so futuristic no one thought it could ever happen.

but it does exist now, in a much simpler way – if you use one of those apps where you “check in” to locations, you’ll get custom advertising. if the check in location is linked to other stuff (oh, hai facebook!) you’ll get ads based on your profile. the future is here.

Liked by 1 person

Big Data nowadays makes a lot easier for companies to watch how people behave, what they like and even what they feel, which allows them to create ads that will better convince people to buy their products. I don’t think that personalised ads are bad, but if we don’t control that whole thing, everything will be about manipulation in the future. Great post, by the way!


i agree with you completely! i don’t mind personalized ads for the most part, i’m not going to engage with an ad that isn’t for something i’d ever use, but when i see an ad for something that i do use, or clothing styles I do wear, i’m more likely to engage with the ad and at least see what that company has to offer.

when you’re getting something for free, even if (especially if!) it includes an ad. . . you are the product.

Liked by 1 person

So I guess you’ve read “The Space Merchants”, the classic and prescient 1952 novel by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth? Seems a lot less like satire now than it did then.


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