How the Observer Became One of the Hoax Advertisers for Thom Yorke’s New Album

Thom Yorke can't do anything the normal way. His last EP's marketing was so elaborate that even the ad men didn't know.EXPAND
Thom Yorke can't do anything the normal way. His last EP's marketing was so elaborate that even the ad men didn't know.
Rich Fury/Getty
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Local artists Sarah Reyes and Daniel Driensky (from creative outfit Exploredinary) were in London filming a project last month when Reyes spotted a bizarre black-and-white advertisement on the Tube, which read “Do you have trouble remembering your dreams?”

The ad, which recalled technology straight out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's lab, appealed to those frustrated from having to wake up daily from a “surreal world where you can be anybody you like,” by offering a revolutionary service via a company called ANIMA Technologies, which, the ad claimed, “built something we call a Dream Camera.”

"I began noticing cryptic messages on the London Tube — black-and-white advertising for a business called ANIMA claiming the capacity to return memories of dreams via a dream camera," Reyes says. "The advert caught my attention for many reasons; the graphic design didn’t lend itself to a modern campaign. It was more of a Xerox copy aesthetic and seemed out of place and out of date adjacent to the other high production value ads, but also the photo used was eerie and uncomfortable to look at."

The ad concluded with a phone number. Many, like Reyes, called the number and heard a voice message with the following statement: “Anima Technologies has been ordered by the authorities to cease and desist from undertaking its advertised business.” The message concluded by playing part of Thom Yorke’s single “Not the News,” which was at the time unreleased.

A website for the ANIMA “project” said it was shut down “due to serious and flagrant unlawful activities.”

The single was released on Aug. 2, in Yorke’s four-song EP, ANIMA, accompanied by a short film directed by acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson.

The ads had been up as early as June, and as reported by Pitchfork, they “have cropped up in multiple London trains, the Dallas Observer, and on phone booths in Milan, prompting people to call a phone number (916-619-6192) that will retrieve their forgotten dreams.”

We have so many questions. First: Milan still has phone booths? Also, did nobody at the Observer read this ad?

We set out to at least answer the second question before launching into an extensive internal investigation to find out how and why we came to be one of the select chosen mediums for Yorke’s Crispin Glover-ly unusual guerrilla marketing efforts.

Here at the Observer, apparently, if you’re selling a dream camera, or magic beans or the idea that the earth is flat, we simply don’t question it.

False Advertising. We were promised a dream recorder and instead we got Thom Yorke's new single.
False Advertising. We were promised a dream recorder and instead we got Thom Yorke's new single.
Dallas Observer

Observer advertising director Brett Robertson didn't remember the ad and searched the files to find the sales employee who placed it originally. Turns out that he put the ad in himself, through a request made by the advertising director in our sister publication Phoenix New Times, Ellis Alvarez, who also placed the ad in L.A. Weekly.

Robertson says he put in the ad after receiving the request via email, because he didn't find an ad for a dream-recording service to be suspect or out of the ordinary. "I see a lot of weird ads," he says.

Alvarez responded to our inquiry by either implying that he was in on the joke, or pretending like he was. Either way, he's now personally tied to Thom Yorke and can brag about this for the rest of his life.

His email read: "I negotiated the buy with the agent. They did more than just 3 cities thru-out. I can't tell you if I knew about  'the dream camera campaign' though (Mum's the word....). Very cool folks though. Very cool."

The Dallas Observer ad is the only print ad to have been reported so far in the aftermath of Yorke's marketing scheme, which means either nobody noticed the ad in the other publications, or else they decided to call the more tempting numbers surrounding Yorke's ad. It's also entirely possible that people aren't interested in reliving their own dreams.

While it's always thrilling news when Yorke announces a release, whether solo or with his band Radiohead, he really set himself up for a disappointed response. Imagine being gullible or maybe curious enough to call the number on the ad, getting your hopes up to partake in a revolutionary service, while gratefully marveling at modern science and the boundless capacity for human achievement, and all you got after that buildup was a Thom Yorke song. And not even the whole song.

The dream-recording fantasy was the subject of Eliseo Subiela’s 1995 film Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going. We don’t know if Yorke has been watching independent Argentinian films, or whether he was inspired by the Dadaists' hoax advertisements from the 1920s, or Lost’s TV ads for the fictional airline Oceanic, or why he or his team specifically chose the Dallas Observer, but we are honored nonetheless.

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