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August 2000

Gamers @ X Games

The X-Games. The yearly ESPN youth vehicle, the heroes of urban sports gathering to roll around on wheels in parking lots - athletics emphasizing gear.

Across from the athletic events, one parking lot was filled with purely commercial interests. Tent after tent of companies offering giveaways, in exchange for personal information.

Between these tents, there are hundreds of people, leading a life of grazing consumers. They travel from booth to booth, some scuttling, some ambling, and each place they look for the free stuff. They're generally willing to give up anything, as long as it's not money. They'll spend twenty minutes listening to a pitch or filling out paperwork, if it means they get an e-how sun visor at the end. I saw one young child wearing a "Right Guard" deoderant brand temporary tattoo on his arm.

And for all those grazing consumers, there were companies eager to collect personal information in exchange for goods. had a successful booth there. We had a standup of Tetris the arcade game, a Dreamcast with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and laptops for extreme sports spectators to register for our web site. As a representative of the company I found myself saying, with a straight face, "Sign up for our website and you can win a t-shirt, a keychain, a skateboard, or a trip on a Russian MIG!"

Later I remembered that sometimes when I look at erotic links, I think about how I could make porn much better than most of the porn I look at online. But there's only so much commercial exploitation you can be involved with, you know? Today, working with at the X-Games, I saw that limit.

MIG promo

Then there's the whole MIG promotion. We're trying to make ourselves visible. Promotions are one time-tested way that companies make themselves known (Remember "Who Shot Mr. Burns contest?" or the Pepsi Challenge or whatever). So we are offering a lucky winner an expenses-paid trip to Russia, where he or she will be able to take a ride high above the earth in an old Russian fighter. So high, you even can see the curvature of the earth! Above 90% of the atmosphere. And they let you fly the plane up there! Wild.

Other companies have run "Fly a MIG" promotions before, but we add something extra - we have an advertising firm that seems to enjoy using as a repository for their more "edgy" ideas. We have, a Russian themed advertising site that merges postmodern design and post-cold war deprication into one cheeky package. There's a few jokes that bothered me; from the FAQ section: "Should I be afraid of Gypsy children? - No, they want money just like everyone else." Oy; let's make fun of victims. Rah rah.

Our booth was decorated with edgy Russian humour and as it turned out, our last three registrants were teenagers, all from Belorussia (sp.). So I asked them if the posters bothered them, as they all portrayed laughable Russia, and they said no, they thought they were funny, unless they were going to be that sorry sucker in the MIG who would be flying with these jokingly stupid Russian pilots. Another visitor to the booth, as his son was signing up, he said, "I hope those Russians build their planes better than their submarines." It was a sobering day of branding and geopolitics.

GX | life |

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