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Face to face

THIS is the message that greets you when you visit Dentyne’s website. It is part of the chewing gum company’s latest ad campaign called Make Face Time.

While the ad campaign is in the US, the message may be relevant to any country where people spend a lot of time online. Conditions like internet addiction disorder do not emerge out of nothing. Neither do complaints that excessive internet use has led to a lack of interpersonal social skills among some people.

So the ad is telling us there’s more to life than being on the internet almost all the time. Or constantly fiddling with the mobile phone and other handheld devices that take us away from face-to-face interaction.

The ad reminds us to spend more face time with family and friends, implying that we may not be doing enough of that.

The campaign, designed by the agency McCann Erickson, started out with TV and print ads for about a month in major cities in the US. Subsequently, the website segment was launched in late-September 2008.

Smiley squish (Source:
To encourage visitors to spend less time online so that they can have more face time, the three-minute website has a huge countdown timer. It clicks audibly by the second to remind people that the clock is ticking.

The site is programmed to shut down after three minutes — visitors can’t do anything on the site after that. Well, the easy way to get around that, if they somehow insist on seeing the three-minute website all over again, is to relaunch the browser.

While exploring the website, visitors will encounter the “smiley chamber of doom,” where the emoticon is subjected to some gory torture — not advisable for children’s viewing. On a lighter note, visitors can look for friends through the “face time finder”, powered by Google Maps, or make a date through “face time request”.

“Face time doesn’t just happen. People are busy,” the website says. “If we want to hang out, we have to work at it. Send a face time request to schedule a get-together with a long lost friend.”

Chew chew (© Jeff Prieb/
Of course, there is also a link to Dentyne’s products. The unwritten message is that its gum can give you minty fresh breath for more pleasant face time.

But the idea of spending less time online may not be good for some of us. For starters, as a solely online news site, The Nut Graph sure hopes that people spend plenty of time on this website!

For many people, the internet is essential for work and, yes, social interaction, even though it is not face-to-face unless you are using Skype. It is how we get our news and analyses, check e-mail for work-related correspondence, other information, jokes, and civil rights petitions and events.

It is the virtual space where we chat with real pals overseas. It’s where we can hatch a crazy plan with the colleague in the next workstation. Perhaps it’s to make tin-foil hats, inspired by the conspiracy theories and political drama around us.

In Malaysia, the internet allows online publications to avoid the arbitrary execution of the Printing Presses and Publications Act. The act empowers the home minister to revoke a publication’s annual printing permit and leaves no room for judicial review. Online publications are not immune to the Internal Security Act, though.

The internet also provides a common platform for people from all over the country, or globe. People can discuss issues of public interest, voice different views, build solidarity in mutual concerns, and agree to disagree on others. Or, people can simply descend into an ugly exchange.

Striking a balance

Still, could we be spending so much time on the internet or the smart phone, that our face-to-face relationships get neglected?

“Everyone loves technology and everyone uses it,” Dentyne’s marketing director, Josette Barenholtz, was quoted as saying in a media and advertising article in The New York Times on 24 Sept 2008. “What’s meaningful is being reminded that being face to face can’t be substituted,” he said.

Craig Markus, executive vice-president and executive creative director at McCann Erickson in New York, acknowledged it was a challenge to figure out how to include the online medium in the campaign.

Dentyne print ads (Source:

“There was a real paradox in that we want to have an online presence, but wait a second, we’re telling people not to be online,” he said in the article. “That’s where we came up with the idea of the three-minute website.”

However, Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, disagrees. She described the idea that social networking sites and digital tools have separated people from those who matter in their lives as a “false dichotomy”.

People use online tools as a way to be more social, updating their acquaintances on what they are doing, she said.

According to the article, her research has shown that people who use these tools have as many offline friends, and spend as much time with them as people who do not socialise online.

To be fair, Barenholtz from Dentyne and Markus from McCann Erickson did point out that the ad campaign was not against technology. It was merely a reminder of the importance of face-to-face interaction.

We can’t really quarrel with the reminder. The challenge for the increasingly tech-gadget-dependent society that we have become is finding the balance. We can use the internet and the smart phone as much as we want. But we need to juggle this with making time for the face-to-face interaction that is a crucial part of human relationships.

Cindy Tham is off to deliver an original instant message in Petaling Jaya. She is also interested in how different people and organisations promote their ideas, brands, products and services online, whether for commercial or non-commercial reasons.

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