Boingo, the company that provides wireless service in airports, either charges for time or gives you free access if you are willing to watch an ad. They know you don’t want to watch the ad, so use tricks to hold on to your attention. Usually this just means refusing to activate your connection until a short video spot has played. Yesterday, during my layover in Atlanta, I was told I additionally had to “Interact” with the ad Boingo was serving for a set number of seconds in order to “earn” wi-fi access. The interaction was a jokey quiz based on the content of the preceding video I had ignored. A readout showed me how many seconds until I was free.
I get it: without these measures no one would watch the ads, Boingo couldn’t justify charging advertisers, and so would not be willing to offer free wi-fi in airports. Compliance generates billable eyeballs, but at what price? I was treated like a recalcitrant employee who needs to be watched like a hawk so that he doesn’t slip off for a smoke break while he’s supposed to be working. Usually I’m ok with ads—the money has to come from somewhere—but the fact that I encounter Boingo in every airport I go to and only in airports makes me think there’s something shady and monopolistic going on and I’ve basically decided they’re my enemy. I make a point of turning down the volume and averting my eyes whenever the ads they host play so that the products fail to register. This extra hoop with the quiz, though, made me pay attention to the point where I remember that the ad I saw was for Trident. The Trident brand made an impression with me. But the impression was something along the lines of “So it’s Trident that hijacked my computer and forced me to watch something I didn’t want to watch. Fuck you, Trident.”
The myth about advertisers is that they are genius manipulators who have turned the art of separating fools from their money into a science. I imagine this is true to an extent, but my Boingo experience makes me wonder which fools, and whose money? Is it worth it for Trident to pay for the privilege of annoying me? Is this simply a case of there being no such thing as bad publicity? I feel like I have become marginally less likely to buy Trident gum, if only because I’ll remember that shunning them is a way to stick it to Boingo. Are the advertisers who put this together playing some deeper game with me that I don’t get? Because, come to think of it, I never give them money. Not a cent. I couldn’t if I wanted to. Their money comes from the marketing department at Trident, whose trust they have presumably worked hard to secure. So maybe Boingo isn’t really my enemy after all. Maybe they’re giving me a little wink and saying, “Here, pretend to watch the ad we convinced someone to pay us to broadcast. Have a little free wi-fi while you’re at it, so you can go up to Facebook and ignore the ads there too. God knows why these chumps keep giving us money, but we won’t say anything if you won’t.”