Have you ever looked at the picture in an advertisement and had utterly no idea what it was?
This has happened a couple of times lately to me.
Amazon has been presenting ads in my Facebook feed. Mostly these are comprehensible, if uninteresting. However, lately there have been a few that are just… I don’t know what.
About a week ago, one of the small Amazon ads that come up in a horizontal row showed a picture of a …thing. It appeared to be a machined metal shaft with dozens of narrow mottled ‘wings’. It looked like a cross between a drywall anchor and an evil insect. The text in the small ad was truncated to gibberish.
I had utterly no idea what it was. I thought maybe it could be a fishing lure, but it didn’t seem to be the right shape or have a place to tie the fishing line. And there was no clue as to how big it was.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a screenshot, and the ad is long gone, so I’ll never know.
However, Monday morning it happened again. I was scrolling through Facebook, and here was another row of Amazon ads. And the first one was… wow.
It showed a box with the Philips name on it, and in front of it was the product. And what
a product it was. It was an object, with a short base of blue plastic, which flared up to diagonally frame… something. The whole front of the object appeared to be salmon-coloured padding surrounding an off-centre hole. The text of the ad was truncated to garble, but I could see the words “Philips” and “sleep”.
I looked at it. I looked at it again and scratched my head. I had no idea what this thing could be, but my inner twelve-year-old was already sniggering suggestively. The object looked like a cross between one of those sessile ocean creatures that just roots itself to the coral and sticks its head up to filter the current, and some kind of sex toy. I didn’t want to just give in and follow the ad, so I put it aside and went to work.
At work, in the lunchroom, I showed the ad to my co-worker, holding the screen of my phone up to the anti-covid plexi barrier in the middle of the table. She looked at it and started to giggle, but had no idea. I looked at the ad again, unpinching the image on my phone to make it bigger. I noticed numbers on the lower part of the salmon-coloured area. Were they–? Yes. “It has a clock,” I announced.
I showed it to another co-worker. He promptly dubbed it the “genital chronometer”. (The marketing materials practically write themselves: “The new Philips TQS52C35 genital chronometer! Never miss an orgasm again!!”) But he didn’t know what it was either.
By this time, it was becoming a challenge to figure this thing out without giving in and following the ad. Lunch ended and we had to go back down to the production floor, and I closed my phone.
As I made parts, I continued to think about it. What could it be? It didn’t seem to be well-designed to be anything. It seemed too delicate and awkwardly-proportioned to be a sex toy, at least for the most obvious use that the hole brought to mind. And was the salmon-coloured area really padding? If so, how could the clock show through?
At break, I looked again, but the ad was gone. However, a google search on “Philips” and “sleep massage” brought up another ad with a similar picture. This one’s casing was white, but it was the same object. And this time, I screenprinted it.
It still made no sense to me. Were you supposed to put your face on it and breathe through the hole while it massaged your face muscles? The angle didn’t seem right for that. Maybe it was some kind of vaporizer?
I still don’t know what it is. I suppose I’ll follow the ad eventually. It’s only $250. Maybe someone could buy one and report back on what it does?
The Story Idea
I got to thinking. What if we weren’t meant to know what these things were?
Amazon is big. It sells everything from groceries to electronic test equipment. And you can get it all via online ordering and home delivery.
But what if Amazon is huger than we ever imagined? What if it sells to more than humanity? What if it sells to the aliens who are hiding out on Earth, concealing themselves for who knows what purposes?
It makes perfect sense. Many of the aliens would have been here for years, so they would be familiar with Earth culture. Companies could have entire divisions marketing to the aliens, using the same brands they are familiar with from wider human society.
And since the aliens could only travel about in disguise, online ordering and home delivery would be much easier ways for them to shop. The Amazon website and app would have hidden sections for alien products, strictly segregated from human products.
But then there are the algorithms.
How many times have you searched for something, and then, hours later while doing unrelated things online, gotten ads for what you were searching for earlier? Amazon and Google and the other big companies track what we do online and the choices we make, and use that information to present ads to us that they hope we will be more likely to respond favourably to. The algorithms are the methods they use to choose what to present.
What if the algorithms are breaking down? They start to present irrelevant products to us, maybe even randomly-chosen ones. (I am getting tonnes of ads for peculiar kitchen utensils right now, for example.)
And, inevitably, they start to mix human and alien products.
The aliens might not notice right away; they are surrounded by human products anyways. But we notice. We start seeing ads for things that are utterly incomprehensible, yet still have familiar brands on them. And when we follow the links, they lead to stranger and stranger things. And then strange creatures…
P. S: My brother-in-law says the object is a sleep-aiding night light…