Review: ‘You’re Soaking In It’

Hot Docs 2017

6 mins read

You’re Soaking In It
(Canada, 75 min.)
Dir. Scott Harper
Programme: Democrazy (World Premiere)


Don’t be confused by the opening reel of You’re Soaking In It. A trailer advertising the documentary begins this work by Scott Harper (The Secret Life of Pigeons) and while it probably makes a few curious heads turn towards the projection booth, it’s an ingenious way to open the film. You’re Soaking In It investigates the extent to which advertising infiltrates our lives. The introductory trailer, like an obligatory ad before a YouTube video, illustrates how there’s no escaping advertising. Particularly in the digital age, one might not even recognise advertising from content. The Don Drapers of internet want to mask the pitch as cleverly as they can.

Harper’s doc shows that the campaigns one sees whipped up in Mad Men are a lost art. You’re Soaking In It explores the new area of “Math Men” in the ad world as advertising shifts from print and television to online impressions. The doc speaks with a variety of talking heads to show the advertising game in a moment of change. Connecting with customers is less about making relationships through stories and more about linking into their tastes and profiles.

You’re Soaking In It encourages audiences and consumers to see the invisible advertising that has become covertly pervasive in the digital age. Algorithms, ad-ons, and even monitors for physical reactions like eye movement and emotions, have replaced Don Draper today. This doc’s talking heads of experts discuss the new metrics driven environment of digital advertising that leads to customer satisfaction at the expense of privacy and security for consumers.

There isn’t too much in the way of new information here, although You’re Soaking In It probably offers an eye-opening exposé for viewers who aren’t plugged in. Harper takes a cue from other internet privacy docs like Terms and Conditions May Apply to draw awareness to the hidden perils of the internet and to encourage smart browsing. A few representatives from the most successful companies, like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram offer a bit too much PR spin to be of service, but the arrogance with which the innovators highlight their ability to profile consumers is very revealing.

The doc is more intriguing when it talks to children. The film visits a classroom in a Toronto elementary school and the kids are more attuned to advertising than one expects. For example, one teacher shows his class a “tutorial” YouTube video for Lego and the majority of students are perceptive enough to recognise tailored content. They know the video is more about selling Lego than teaching them how to build something cool, but they admit to having a greater interest in adding some blocks to their toy collection. Tailored content (unfortunately) works and the growing smudge on the line between content and advertising demands a need for more transparency.

The film makes a fair argument, however, that the compromises to the consumers’ privacy are essentially determined by their own demands and habits. In the era when open access and instant gratification means that consumers want everything for free on the internet, content creators and servers simply need advertising to pay the pills. The consumer, however, is ultimately the product since every click, ‘Like!’, Google search and impression plots users into an intricate web of cyber capitalism and invisible advertising. The alternative might be to grab a subscription and enjoy the comfort and security of print.

You’re Soaking In It is preceded by

Canada the Good?
(Canada, 5 min.)
Dir. Tess Girard


This perceptive and artfully rendered doc by Tess Girard playfully confronts the brand image of the nation. The doc features an interview with British analyst Simon Anholt, who describes his kooky invention of the Good Country Index. The system measures the quality of a nation state’s brand and Anholt relates how Canada essentially exists as the mirror image of America. As Anholt describes the cultural mythology that exists in the brand image of Canada in the minds of people around the world, Girard raises familiar icons like hockey sticks and maple leafs in an animated canvas that undercuts their authority. The film humorously challenges the oversimplification of a national identity that arises when one tries to distil something as complex as an entire country within an image or metric. This sharp doc encourages us to see beyond the signs and slogans—necessary actions as national myth-making accelerates to comical heights with Canada 150.

You’re Soaking In It and Canada the Good? Screen:
-Friday, May 5 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 6:30 PM

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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