Vibrating Train Windows Can Now Transmit Ads Straight Into Your Skull

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.

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Imagine what Don Draper would have to say about this!!!

July 09 2013 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not if you wear your Aluminum foil tri-corn hat.

July 09 2013 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One man's advertisement experiment, another mans brainwash machine....and guess who the guinne pig is.

July 09 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shecky Vegas

Oh, great. MORE voices inside my head!

July 09 2013 at 4:02 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I don't doubt this could be done. But I doubt this article is serious. It would be a giant waste of money for an extremely limited (if any) return. I have never seen people rest their head against the window of any moving vehicle they are in, let alone a train.

I have heard of bone conduction as it relates to our hearing. It accounts for the reason that when we hear our own voice on tape it sounds different because we are only receiving the sound externally.

This sounds like something for the Onion to run with.

July 09 2013 at 4:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Blazia Lydia

I guess I'm the wrong one to complain. I had to have a metal plate put into my head years ago, and now I enjoy free HBO through my eyeballs.... But I try not to pin my head to glass windows on trains, because I'd hate like hell to have to sit through commercials whilst enjoying a good flick, even if it IS free.

July 09 2013 at 3:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This creepy, invasive technology is going nowhere. Out of a train-car holding 30 people maybe 3 will be napping with their heads on the windows. As it wakes you up after a hard day's work your anger will dismiss anything you might have heard .

July 09 2013 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to emmett's comment

Didn't you read the end of the article, Mr. Kelly? It's already recognized as a useless application of technology!

But bone conduction IS very useful in special hearing aids for the deaf, and earphones that conduct sound directly through the skull, bypassing the eardrum.

July 09 2013 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

To the new wave profanity, 'burrickfurrick', this is an 'emergency', see your therapist ASAP .

July 09 2013 at 3:30 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Blazia Lydia

Perhaps a human skull against a rattlin' window isn't the best way to catch a healthful nap, ennaways.... It could be scramblin' up the brain.

July 09 2013 at 3:27 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

one question: WHY

July 09 2013 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply