By: Trevor Chartrand
You’re Soaking In It is a cautionary doc more thrilling and foreboding than any Black Mirror episode because, unlike the series set in the near future, the events of Scott Harper’s documentary are happening NOW.
The film closely examines the advertising climate as it exists today, revealing with intricate detail the ways in which data is tracked and analysed to help marketers target you specifically. Structured around a group of primary school students as they learn about the effects of advertising, what at first seems insulting (comparing their audience to young children?) quickly becomes haunting when the kids are asked to come up with new ways to brand people that quite frankly, seem shockingly possible. This is the next generation and it’s where we may be headed.
Most people are likely aware of what targeted advertising is, and the way ads are tailor-made based on data collection from your entire search history. Even reading this review right now, you’re likely being tracked by advertisers who know you’re interested in documentary film. I had the mindset going in that ‘I know this already,’ and that’s the real problem the film is trying to address. Everyone knows the technology invasively breaches their online privacies, but few show concern or take steps to prevent it.
You’re Soaking In It features interviews with influential marketers across history including George Lois, the real-life advertiser who inspired the Mad Men character Don Draper. The film provides a brief history of advertising as we know it, with insight into the evolution of the industry before the internet created the convoluted mess we’re faced with today. Most rewarding on this journey is a sincere apology from Ethan Zuckerman, the inventor of the pop-up ad.
The challenge marketers have always faced is accurately determining how much of their efforts have actually worked, and how many campaigns have been ignored by the public. The doc reveals how data analysts, mathematicians and computer scientists are the new frontrunners of the industry; how advertising is no longer considered an art form, but a mathematical formula that still hasn’t been perfected – but with facial recognition software and pulse sensors in phones, laptops, and smart watches, they’re getting pretty damn close.
Audiences will also hear from ad executives from YouTube, Facebook, Google, and Instagram, who stand by the notion that marketing is a necessary evil that keeps the internet free. On the other side of the argument, the CEO of Adblock Gabriel Cubbage, has started pushing back and looking for preventative measures to protect public privacy. Ironically, while researching Gabriel Cubbage further for this review, a Business Insider site demanded I turn off my own adblocker to read the entire article…about the Adblock CEO. This drives the message home even further when we start seeing pop-ups, advertising the advertisements themselves.
There’s not much visual innovation within You’re Soaking In It, but there really doesn’t need to be. The engaging material is eye-catching enough on its own, especially since it features so many ads already designed to be pleasing to the eye. There are effective, yet crude, CGI renderings running over images and discussions to help demonstrate analogies made by the film’s subjects.
The documentary is structured in a straightforward way, again using the classroom of children as the access point throughout – encouraging viewers to learn along with the students. Edited almost in an ethically chronological way, the progression of You’re Soaking In It depicts advertising strategies in order from harmless, to invasive, to shamefully intrusive. The structure builds upon itself as it progresses and the advertiser’s techniques become more and more shocking.
A tightly edited, well-shot documentary that raises awareness without bias, You’re Soaking In It provides insight and detail that will challenge how you perceive the advertisements that surround you and, unfortunately, follow you.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor