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FROM DEEWEE: Data and Digital Advertising in Popular Culture

Just every now and again – when perhaps we’re trying to explain trends in consumer behaviour, or predict the success of a new proposition – we consider the knowledge and sophistication of audiences in relation to the business of online software and services.

Often the question is along the lines of, “Do the users understand how they’re paying for this free service,” “Do they actually consider a value exchange,” or, “Do they realise that they’re the product?”

I tend to find that I imagine more knowing consumers than most other digital marketers. The industry seems to think, anything more than just the surface of online data business is just too nerdy for normal people to care about.

Digital industy Vs Popular culture

There isn’t much good research on this, and, perhaps because of that, references to the digital industry in popular culture strike me as meaningful indications. South Park’s excellent treatment of low grade “native” advertising was a particularly enjoyable one: Stan, trapped, falling down a digital spiral of worthless and misleading distraction. That was back in 2015.

More recently, I’ve been listening to Soulwax’s new album, FROM DEEWEE. It’s a welcome return (after 12 years?!) from the seasoned trio (and once again an album that grows on you, with each repeat listening).

With this new album, Soulwax have made a more explicit and coherent commentary than any of their previous works. Most of the album plays on themes of “the machine’s” dystopian control over humanity.

But digital advertising specifically is the clear target of the opening track, “Masterplanned.” The lyrics reference the role that data-driven targeted advertising plays in perceptions of the world around us; the undetectable extent to which the ads we see are personalised; social media and the abundance of information and stimulation; FOMO, psychology in advertising; and more…

Masterplanned

 

Sometimes I feel like walking away
Everything is everywhere and we think it’s ok
I thought the journey was the point of the race
But it seems destination has taken its place

Try catching every moment you see
Time is nothing to run out of it’s just memories
Instant access to all things ever made
While we’re waiting for these numbers to blow us away

The machine has taken all your cash
All the fun is happening somewhere else
The creator has a master plan
Now you have the world in your hand
Everybody has a right to forget
Taking pleasure in the fact you have nothing to share
Tell me how much does it cost when it’s free
Who can tell a story that only you would believe

The machine has taken all your cash
All the fun is happening somewhere else
The creator has a master plan
Now you have the world in your hand

Everything everywhere
Everyone is in on it
Everything everywhere
Everyone is in on it
Everything everywhere
Everyone is in on it
Everything everywhere
Everyone is in on it

Sophistication of the digital industry behind the lyrics

There’s clearly a sophisticated understanding of the digital industry behind these lyrics: in mainstream, popular culture. New propositions that improve and evolve advertising – ones that can make it more effective, more moral and more profitable – especially new, respectful, distributed models for personal data collection – these may not be so difficult to deliver after all. The biggest obstacle is often assumed: people don’t care about privacy, and they don’t understand issues to do with personal data. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so sure.

FROM DEEWEE ends, incidentally, on a delightful, lilting refrain: “There’s so much bullshit coming out of your mouth, there’s so much bullshit coming out of your mouth…”