Vibrating Train Windows Can Now Transmit Ads Straight Into Your Skull

<b class="credit">David McNew, Getty Images</b>
David McNew, Getty Images

Imagine this: You get on the commuter train after a long day of work, and rest your head against the window. Only as soon as your head touches the glass, you suddenly hear an advertisement playing in your head.

It's not science fiction: Advertising agency BBDO has actually come up with an ad delivery system that skips your ears and just shoots the commercial straight through your skull. The ads are totally inaudible until your head contacts the glass, at which point you hear it through a process known as bone conduction.

Confused? Well, allow us to explain: Ever notice how your voice sounds a little odd when you're listening to it on a recording? That's because when you talk normally, you're not just hearing the sound of your voice coming in through your ears -- you can also hear sound vibrating through your skull, which distorts the sound of your voice. By contrast, when you're listening to a recording of your voice, you get none of that skull vibration distortion, so you hear what you really sound like to the rest of the world.

Well, someone at BBDO apparently decided that if you can hear noises through your skull, then you should hear ads through your skull.

The agency launched a test campaign in January that used a small transmitter to vibrate the windows of German trains; passengers resting their heads against the windows heard an advertisement that no one else could. In this case, the ad in question was for Sky Go, a mobile app for satellite and cable TV company Sky Deutschland.

We can see why the concept might intrigue advertisers, but consumers seem skeptical. A YouTube video showcasing the technology already has more than a quarter-million views, but the reviews were overwhelmingly negative: 70 percent of voters gave the video a thumbs-down, and commenters are calling the system an invasion of privacy.

Meanwhile, the video itself touts a lot of selling points for the technology that are actually reasons why consumers might hate it. "Tired commuters often rest their heads against windows," it proudly declares at one point, not pausing to consider that these weary travelers might not want a commercial blaring inside their heads.

In other words, it's a cool idea, but it's not a very good one.

Or, in the words of Ian Malcolm in "Jurassic Park": "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.