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January 17, 2010

FBI Turns Spanish Politician into “Older” Osama, via Digital Imaging

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — Laurie Morrow, Ph.D. @ 3:00 pm
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Perhaps your day hasn’t gone so well:  the dog woke you up two hours early, to alert you to the presence of a robin on the lawn.  You’ve been drafted into the army of the “Downsized.”  Your daughter switched her major from Computer Science to Fine Art.

But no matter how bad a day you’re having, chances are that Gaspar Llamazares is having a worse one.  A politician in Spain, Llamazares awoke one morning to find that the FBI had used his photo to illustrate what an “older”  Osama bin Laden might look like.

Bad enough for the FBI to officially pronounce you “older”-looking.   Geometrically worse to find your face identified as bin Laden’s and plastered across the globe.

Pete Cashmore tells the story of how this happened at Mashable.  Rather than start with an image of bin Laden or with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, the FBI’s forensic artist found a photo on the internet of a man he/she did not recognize and digitally altered the image.  Suddenly, Llamazares is transformed from a politician hoping to be recognized by his constituents into America’s Most Wanted.  Llamazares now fears, quite reasonably, for his safety.

“Using photos from an image search to create a most wanted poster is surely putting the subject at risk, is it not?” Cashmore asks.

One also wonders whether this errant FBI employee also violated the law:  did he/she check the copyright of the image and obtain permission to make use of it?   How likely would the person holding the copyright be to grant such a request, if they knew the use to which their work would be put, and if they wished to continue doing business with Llamazares?

So maybe your day isn’t such a bad one, after all.  Maybe that robin your dog greeted was a harbinger of spring.  And you were home to enjoy it, after years of rushing out in the darkness to do a job you didn’t enjoy any more.  And maybe your fears are groundless, about your daughter being unemployable because she’s switched from Computer Science to Fine Art.  Looks like there’s going to be at least one opening for a forensic artist with computer skills — at the FBI.

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December 20, 2009

Marketing Evil: Why My Kid Won’t Be Wearing Adidas

Filed under: advertising,Uncategorized — Laurie Morrow, Ph.D. @ 2:21 pm
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Over at Mashable is a post about a marketing campaign Adidas is launching in January to promote their new Star Wars-inspired line.  Instead of aligning the product with the positive, heroic figures in the familiar tale, Adidas is integrating Facebook with Google Maps to create a sort of ‘game’ called the Star Wars Death Star Superlaser, in which participants are encouraged to emulate the evil Darth Vader.

The game opens with a video in which you see the street you live on — thanks to the Google Maps app, you see the buildings on your actual street — reduced to rubble.  The app then allows you to subject the streets your Facebook friends live on to similar destruction at your will.  The cutesy-sociopathic tagline that appears at the video’s end: “Hitting your street in January 2010.”

It’s been less than a decade since the 9/11 terrorist attack reduced a significant portion of lower Manhattan turned to dust, with the loss of several thousand innocent lives.  The vast majority of Americans consider this real-world act evil, just as they considered the imaginary, vicious actions of the fictional character Darth Vader evil.

Normal people find it troubling, not amusing, to contemplate the destruction of particular people and places they care about.   Normal people don’t think it’s fun to visualize the destruction of their friends’ lives, homes, and neighbors.

If the market Adidas is going after consists of sociopaths and would-be terrorists, this is one dandy promotion.

If, however, Adidas hopes to sell sneakers to normal people who cringe at the thought of terrible things happening to their friends, they may want to use another approach.  Unless and until they do, I can promise you that my kid won’t be wearing Adidas.

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