KFC ad uses steganography to hack Tivo

Three years ago (jesus, I’ve been blogging for three years?) I had a suggestion for TV advertisers who were worried about the threat of Tivo: Try steganography. If Tivo users were fast-forwarding through ads, then why not create ads that are optimized for this behavior? Create ads that produce one coherent visual when viewed at normal speed, and another coherent effect — an entirely different one — when viewed in fast-forward. Sure, that’d be hard to do, but hey: Life’s hard.

So I was intrigued this weekend to learn that KFC is the first company to tweak an ad specifically for Tivo. They’ve released a TV spot that contains a subliminal message that can be seen only when you scroll through the entire ad on slow-motion. Go frame-by-frame through their new “Buffalo KFC Snacker” ad (pictured above), and you’ll encounter a single frame that lists a secret code you can use to get one free!

I love it. Phil Swann of TVPredictions.com has written a short commentary about the ad, echoing my original point:

There’s no question that the DVR makes it easier to skip commercials, but the KFC ad demonstrates that the advertising industry will adjust to the change. Future TV commercials will include more DVR gimmicks and other techniques to stop viewers before they skip.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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