Wigging out on Wanton Wiggio

Our own Nathan J. Robinson has an op-ed in The Hoot. Read it here, then come back and comment on it.

At one point during the past weekend, some nefarious individual (or individuals) grabbed a bit of neon chalk and a stencil, and plastered the domain “Wiggio.com” all over Usdan and the Rabb steps. As a result, when we Brandeisians traipsed to class on Monday morning, our eyes were treated to a selection of bright green advertisements on the walls and floors.

I’m not sure how many passersby paid attention to this assortment of Wiggios, but I was particularly perturbed by it. Two thoughts came to mind: What is this Wiggio.com? And who the hell do they think they are?

The first one of these is probably the exact reaction hoped for by the mysterious chalker. The second, perhaps less so. Anyway, after a bit of cursory Googling, I discovered that Wiggio is apparently yet another social networking site, whose particular specialty is “the formation of groups.”

But as for who the hell they think they are, I am still not sure. It is unclear whether Wiggio had permission to advertise on our campus, or simply decided that because the Rabb steps are a sort-of open forum, companies can plaster their logos there freely. Perhaps Wiggio even paid the University for the space. It seems a reasonably conceivable deal given our school’s current dire financial state.

The appearance of the paint raises a number of curious questions, such as whether the company paid a student to do the defacement, or sent its own staff in under the cover of darkness. But more importantly, it is worth examining as an example of a hitherto-unseen form of intrusive advertisement.

In the Digital Age, the art of ad-making has undergone a number of significant changes in a short period of time. The two most common and disturbing new strands of ad are “stealth” or “undercover” marketing, in which consumers are unaware that what they see is an advertisement, and “viral” marketing, in which companies attempt to create a rapidly-spreading buzz through the use of catchy, easily-transferrable memes.

The Brandeis Wiggio ads bear a relation to these new marketing techniques because they employ a sly mechanism that is becoming more and more frequently employed in modern ads: they fail to actually disclose what the product does. By providing us only with a web address, Wiggio means to pique our curiosity, so that we fall victim to the irresistible urge to solve the mini-mystery of the site’s identity. And by the time we have reached the website, and found that it is actually quite mundane, it is too late. We are already customers.

But while the Wiggio ads are similar to other recent ad trends in their coyness, they are of a somewhat different breed. The Wiggio ads do not explicitly meet the criteria of “stealth” or “undercover” marketing, because their purpose is clear, even if their product is not. Nor do they really qualify as “viral” marketing, because they emanate from a clear source, rather than being passed from person to person in an ever-growing chain.

No, this is a new type of invasive advertising, which turns the very environment we inhabit into a billboard. The Wiggio logo appeared not only in the typical open-forum space of the steps, but also on walls which have previously been entirely free of notices, whether student-generated or corporate. The Wiggio logo placement showed no regard for the aesthetics of the campus, and its creators seemed to have only one priority in mind: making Wiggio as visible as possible. This marks a failure to understand the typical limits of what constitutes an ad-space, and what constitutes the surrounding world. It shows a disrespect for the sanctity of the school grounds, and if it is allowed to continue then all space will be ripe for branding. Perhaps soon you will awake to find a Starbucks logo painted on the side of your house, or tattooed on your newborn’s forehead.

It’s curious that the company should choose this particular method of hawking their digital wares, considering how irritating it is. Surely they have not forgotten that most elementary of business maxims: try not to annoy the hell out of your customers. Although on some level, perhaps it does make business sense. After all, every word I write gives Wiggio free publicity, regardless of what I say about it. And maybe in a recession, companies are turning in desperation to previously untried methods of luring consumers. Or it could be that college campuses simply present a frustrating problem for advertisers, since they are ripe with well-to-do young potential buyers, but have no obvious space in which to propagandize. The structure of campus life, after all, leaves us watching little network television, listening to little FM radio, reading few magazines, and generally bypassing the typical mechanisms by which we are advertised to.

Perhaps the reasons for the change are even more sinister. Perhaps, as Marshall McLuhan only somewhat facetiously put it, that “advertisers must now confront the opposition of tranquilizers in suburbia. Suburbanites are so hopped up that the TV ad, quack and all, rolls off their backs like a duck.” Has