Bumblebee Tuna Tricks You Into Watching Commercials At The Grocery Store

Must we put video screens everywhere? Reader Grey says that he was fooled into pressing a button above a tiny video screen at his local Safeway — only to be subjected to a very low-res commercial for Bumblebee Tuna.

Grey says:

This absurd Bumblebee Tuna display was jutting into the isle at my local Safeway. It had a black screen, single silver button, and a card stock sign demanding I “push the button.” Out of nothing more than utter disbelief and morbid curiosity I bow to the will of the sign.

“Will it start talking to me, the grocery store shopper?” I wonder. “Perhaps it will suggest some Tuna-themed dish for me to prepare for dinner tonight?” No. Instead I see the lowest resolution version of some 30 second, made for TV ad I’d ever seen.

When it stops it goes black, waiting for the next passerby to cave to the demands of the card stock sign. No coupons. No cooking ideas. No direct engagement with the shopper. Just the same, unimaginative advertising penetrating deeper into our everyday experiences – as if the market isn’t saturated enough. I don’t know how this could possibly be effective, but apparently they think it will be.

At least the damn thing isn’t auto-play. I hope someone figures out a way to hack these things and deliver and useful, informative, or somewhat interesting message on one of these.

Maybe you should go back see what it looks like when you put the sunglasses on.


Edit Your Comment

  1. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    These are popping up all over. They were slightly annoying at wal-mart, but I expected as much from them. When they started showing up in Kroger and Publix a few months later they became downright absurd. The problem with the second wave is that some of them are not button-activated, but start blazing away whenever you walk by. I complained to the manager and he said that he was seriously considering taking them down since they weren’t making him any more money and were only spawning a plethora of customer complaints like my own.

    • BobSalawalatski says:

      @FooSchnickens – Forklift Dirver Extraordinaire: If you think that’s annoying and absurd, consider this:

      Samsung is developing a screen technology called AM-OLED, which is basically an OLED screen (the next ‘step’ after LCD), but super thin and flexible. Basically, they’re for portable devices so they never crack or shatter. All kinds of screens are only getting cheaper, too.

      Eventually, all magazines and newspapers (if there are any left) will feature video ads. In fact, there was one limited-run issue of a magazine with an LCD screen in it not long ago.

      After that, they’ll start getting used in packaging. Every box and every label in the whole grocery store will be a video advertisement. All of it, collectively bombarding customers in bright colors and dancing mascots from every spot on every shelf.

      Now that would be annoying and absurd.

    • magic8ball says:

      @FooSchnickens – Forklift Dirver Extraordinaire: One of the grocery stores where I live has a large video display in the produce section that plays constantly and loudly, clashing with the music coming from the overhead speakers. They also have video screens that play advertisements at every checkout lane. If not for the fact that I like their pharmacy, I would never set foot in the place again. It is the most irritating grocery-shopping experience I have ever had.

    • zekedms says:

      @FooSchnickens – Forklift Dirver Extraordinaire: These things are ALL OVER the notoriously crappy Wal-mart by my house. I’m amazed they haven’t been stolen given he neighborhood, but there’s small screens playing commercials on a loop, sometimes tied to a product, usually not, and solid 30 inch plasma screens hanging and playing commercials above most of the refrigerated open cases around the outside ring of the store.

      I’m honestly surprised Wal-mart didn’t decide to start taking the cyberpunk model of advertising on sooner.

  2. Gtmac says:

    I have come here to buy tuna and kick ass…and they’re all out of tuna.

    • Gtmac says:

      @Gtmac: Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…

      As usual, the technology (which in this case has been around for some time) moves much faster than appropriate applications.

      It’s easier for advertisers to reuse what they already have produced for the TV than devise a novel use for the different ad location.

      I like the OP’s suggestions. From a creative perspective anyway. I still wouldn’t want see them.

  3. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    what a waste of store resources.
    and how annoying would it be to try to get past someone in the aisle watching that?
    although some mother somewhere is saying ‘great, i bet that would entertain my kid for a good minute and half, repeatedly pushing the button’

    won’t somebody think of the kittens?

  4. DadsterNC says:

    And what makes the consumer watch this video? Is there some kind of force-field that restrains you until the commercial is over?

    Just walk away. And don’t buy the product.

    • 339point4 says:

      @DadsterNC: Agreed. It’s got a sign over it with the brand name and logo, a button to push, and a screen. What was going to happen besides a commercial?
      We have a few of these in our local grocery store, but they don’t have buttons; they just play on endless loops and are very easy to walk past and ignore.

    • Nytmare says:

      @DadsterNC: Do you have a problem with the OP describing his experiences for the rest of us so we know to avoid those things? Cause otherwise I don’t understand your point.

    • Phil Keeps It Real [Consumerist] says:


      Exactly, this sort of back & forth is kind of annoying. Plug those white ear buds back in your canal and keep it moving. NEXT!

  5. lotussix says:

    i like how he says that the card “demands” him to push the button. there was no gun to his head.

    also, if he wants recipes, the card says to go to the website.

    i don’t mind that there are screens that have an option to watch. if there were advertisements running on it consistantly, i might have a problem with that.

    • Nytmare says:

      @lotussix: Tell us, what is the card saying then? If you need a reference, there’s a handy picture of it at the top of this page.

      • lotussix says:

        @Nytmare: i saw the card, thanks.

        what i was saying is that a card saying “push the button” does not equate to a “demand” – at least not for me.

      • TheUncleBob says:

        @Nytmare: It’s funny – I see soda machines all the time telling me to “Deposit nickles, dimes and quarters”, yet I manage to avoid doing it.

  6. ptkdude says:

    I’ve been trying to ram them with my shopping cart, but they’re always up too high.

  7. ElizabethD says:

    The power of the screen… the irresistible urge to push the button… Wow, Pavlov would be proud of us.

  8. angryneo says:

    Nice to meet you. Bumblebee tuna! Bumblebee tuna! Excuse me. Your balls are showing! Bumblebee tuna!

  9. GitEmSteveDave_Marryin'Couples says:

    I so wanted to gank one of these when I saw them last year, if only to make a video nametag.

  10. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    The flat-panel intrusion is getting out of hand. I stopped buying gas at a few local gas stations because they put up screens that blast REALLY loud advertisements at me while I’m trying to pump gas. No mute button, no discount on fuel for being subjected to the messages ultimately meant no more money from me.

    • MikeVx says:

      @TheSpatulaOfLove: I did exactly that when Speedway put in those things. Once I exhausted the pre-paid card I had I went elsewhere. Speedway is now on my emergency-only list for buying gas. Many years ago Mobil had these little radio-like things on the pump handle that would blat out ads, you could turn them off, but you had to do that every time. I went nearly a decade before I went into a Mobil again.

      Ads are a sub-type of fraud, and I avoid them whenever possible.

      • ElizabethD says:


        I guess I’m a sad case, but when I go once a week to our local Lukoil gas station for their 5 cents off special, I actually watch those damn things. Turn on a screen and my weary eyeballs will gravitate to it.

        • pz says:

          @ElizabethD: Don’t feel too bad about it — screens like that are going to be everywhere in the future, and we’ll all watch them because there’ll be no choice.

  11. anithinks says:

    The ad on the radio for Bumblebee is the most annoying ad ever. It goes like: “Bum bum bumblebee bumblebee tuna, I love bumblebee bumblebee bumblebee tuna” in a very lampooning voice. It has driven me away from trying that product.

    I would be pissed, and would definitely walk away if I heard that on the small TV screen the OP mentioned. That said, no harm done with watching an ad for <30 seconds, and I am sure the OP could do without tuna recipes and such that are freely available on the internet…

  12. diasdiem says:


  13. diasdiem says:


  14. HalOfBorg says:

    I got your Bumblebee Tuna video.

  15. AbsoluteIrrelevance says:

    “At least the damn thing isn’t auto-play.”

    I just saw these popping up at Safeway last week. And I’m very sorry to break this to you, but these things definitely have the ability to auto-play.

    I walked past one and it got my attention because it was playing some interstitial preview to the commercial on a low volume. Then I hit the button and the actual commercial played. I listened to it for about one second, slowly lost a little more of my sanity after realizing grocery stores are now putting video commercials at eye level, and moved on.

    Hopefully these things test out to be a failed ad concept and in 6 months we’ll forget all about them.

    • Science is for girls! says:

      @AbsoluteIrrelevance: Yet another reason to be happy to be abnormally short or tall: annoying things are seldom at eye level. Unless, of course, you’re on the petite side and find children annoying.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @AbsoluteIrrelevance: Yes, there was an auto-play one at the Kroger I shop at a few months ago.. and it scared the crap out of me because it was SO LOUD. There was nothing you could do except run away.

      People must have complained about it because I haven’t seen another one like that since then.

    • mackjaz says:

      @AbsoluteIrrelevance: There’s an audio version of this at Long’s/CVS: “I’m your helpful computer friend. Are you looking for something to buy?” and it just goes on and on. I mostly feel sorry for the employees. Almost as bad as the incessant beeping from the UPC scanner and the ATM pad.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @mackjaz: You make it sound like MS’s Clippy. What are you buying? Is that personal or professional tuna? Can I help you with that tuna?

    • stormbird says:

      @AbsoluteIrrelevance: I can’t imagine that the ability to play a commercial for the thing you’re right in front of will catch on. If there was a quick recipe or suggested uses, that might be worth it. Recipe ideas for a Campbell’s Soup display would be worth a button push. Combine it with coupons for the other ingredients you need and you could have a simple but effective advertisement system far cheaper than national commercial spots.

      Someone should create a kiosk where you scan the IPCs of your groceries and it suggests recipes. I think there’s a site that does something similar but you have to type the items in and it’s not at the supermarket. And I can’t remember the name of the site.

  16. nofelix says:

    Free LCD screen. Yoink!

    • stormbird says:

      @nofelix: They probably have RFID tags on them to stop this sort of theft. It’s a good idea, though. And I imagine it’d take micro SD cards. So you should be able to swap it pretty easily in a minute or so. Might be fun to ‘borrow’ the screens, change the flash drive and people would get to see an ad for another company or an anti-consumerist tirade or a video of a kitten playing in a meadow. PETA could slip in ads for their anti-fish campaign. Not that I would suggest such a thing. Though it’d be a hit on youtube, I think. Hmmm.

  17. Cupajo says:

    Is it a waste of resources? Yes.
    Is it irritating? yes.

    But nobody “tricked” him into pushing the button and nobody forced him to stand there and watch the commercial. Fuck, man. Just walk away! It’s not that big a deal. By complaining about it, you’ve just allowed it to waste even more of your time.

  18. jamesdenver says:

    I hate those plastic “billboard” things that stick out into the aisles. I end up knocking them down when passing people — and don’t bother to pick them up.

  19. FatLynn says:

    The bizarre part, IMO, is that they could do something cool with this. As the OP suggested, a 30-second demo on a recipe with tuna wouldn’t be bad, but I would think marketing people could come up with something even better. For example, what if there was a short puzzle you had to solve to get a coupon code or something? They could easily use this tech to engage people instead of just piss them off.

    (NB: Even the latter ideas would piss me off, and probably most consumerist readers, but you get where I’m going with this)

    • treimel says:

      I agree–now that they’ve gone to the expense and effort of installing these things, they should go the extra step and actually provide a perceived value to the shopper. In my view, an opt-in commercial with some kind of bonus (coupon, recipe, contest entry, whatever) would be a plus inasmuch as it’s right there where you shop for it. A plain old commercial? what’s the point?

    • HogwartsAlum says:

      @FatLynn: Yeah, I agree with you. If I were to watch a video of a recipe that looked kind of good and the product were right in front of me, I would probably reach out and take one.

      Just like WonkaVision!

  20. JPropaganda says:

    Kleenex did the same thing at my local grocery store! It was so annoying!

  21. SlyBevel says:

    RE: “those plastic “billboard” things” and the little video screens posted about here:

    They all seem to come from this marketing company:


    They don’t seem to have the video screens on their website yet, though, so maybe they’re still testing those? A limited rollout perhaps?

    I suggest that they’re probably gathering numbers on what these things do to sales as we speak…and if a certain tech-savvy segment of the market simply walked away from the product every time they saw one of these…

    Well then, their clients would see the dismal numbers and hesitate to invest in them.

  22. Zagroseckt says:

    MMmm tuna.

    Ok this is getting silly i’ve seen similer devices in walmart not the iddy bitty type you got there but larger displays just spouting adverts

    The annoying thing is the day i took notice of one it was adverting one product while being serounded by the competitor product (i thwacked it with the broom i was going to buy .. HARD. it stopped)

    i’ll snap one off the shelf one day and see how hackabul it is probably just uses a mmc card you can probly just replace whatever video file thy got in it with one of your own.

    note the advert wasnt even an HOW TO USE infomershal just a tv add. i learned nothing and wanted my 2 minuts back in liquid cristal

  23. ThinkerTDM says:

    Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs
    Blockin’ up the scenery, breakin’ my mind…

  24. h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

    What did he think it was going to do? There’s a placard with the Bumblebee Tuna logo right above the damn thing. It’s not like the sign said “Press this button for free cupcakes and a puppy!”.

  25. That's Consumer007 to you says:

    With RFID, it really won’t be long now until all of these screens, and a screen in your cart you cannot remove or shut up, will start nagging at you with the same auto check out voice micromanaging you doing THEIR work at checkout.

    The voice will keep yelling the specials over and over, and if you pass a special without buying it, it will ask you if you are sure and why you didn’t get the special, or if you bought a competing brand, why you brought that one and not Brand X.

    Also, “intelligent” aisle displays will block your cart or toss an item at you if you pass without buying from it.

    Further, security will further ask you when checking out why you picked up some items and returned them to the shelf. That is not allowed and there will be a restocking fee for that before leaving, sir. There will be an extra fee if the item was returned to the wrong spot on the shelf, and a mondo fee if you had the NERVE to put it in the wrong aisle.

    Eventually they will try and gear it all to severely punish you for going to the store instead of internet ordering, and soon there will only be warehouses, no shoppers allowed in person, you will have to get everything over the internet and if they screw it up, oh well, wait on hold to talk to India about your soup and crackers and your cleaning supplies and they will fix the order in 4 to 6 weeks.

    And also there will be RFID tags on all those items scannable not only in the store, but in the parking lot, in your car, and yes, in your home. I mean, come on, doesn’t Tyson Chicken have a right to see an interactive map and thorough database of exactly who has each of their products post-purchase, with addresses and phone numbers? So that you can get 20 telemarketing calls after each trip asking why you did and didn’t buy x, y and z instead and giving you “offers” for the next trip?

    I realize people will laugh reading this but I’d bet money we will all see it and be subjected to these or similar things in the next five years.

    You see, you really have no consumer rights. Marketers and consultants are redesigning your daily shopping life without your permission in corporate boardrooms as we speak so you are more “profitable” for corps, less of a bother, and more micromanaged and controlled to shop “correctly” in the way they see fit. Don’t like it? Stay at home and starve or go drive thru and delivery 24/7. We should have seen all this coming when each piece of fresh produce got bar scan stickers.

    I would go on about how you will be micromanaged and micromeasured in your chair at work with calculations about “productive time”, but that’s for another post :)

    • That's Consumer007 to you says:

      @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: Oh yeah and sorry can’t purchase anything without your real (they will make you prove it) phone number in the system for the telemarketing calls and nope no opt out for that if you want to shop at the store.

  26. lalaland13 says:

    I’m seeing these auto-play things at a gas station. Except it showed “NBC at the Pump” and I got an office clip.

    It was disturbing yet oddly transfixing and, I suppose, better than standing there whistling and avoiding fumes.

    But at the same time, I don’t need to be entertained or bombarded with ads every minute of every day. I already fear my brain is being conditioned to hurry up and go faster, as evidenced by me having to say “OK, slow down” when I open up a book.

  27. CocoColorado says:

    There were more than one of these at our nearby King Sooper/Kroger. I was shopping at a relatively quiet time and one of these devices was either motion activated or time activated and I was lucky. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the groceries started talking to me.

  28. Nytmare says:

  29. morlo says:

    They’ve shrunk their can and upgraded to sub-cat-food-grade tuna, and what do we get? push the button!

  30. Sully111 says:

    I thought it was one of those coupon machines. Hit the button a coupon comes out. Nope.I almost knocked the thing of the rack.

    How long until someone hacks it to play something other than the comercial.

  31. PsiCop says:

    I can’t handle any more. Really. I can’t. Do these companies REALLY need to shove advertising at me, EVERYWHERE I go? Is nothing too sacred not to have video advertising slapped on it? I mean, when I’m in a store, fercryinoutloud? You can’t even leave me alone, then?

    I fear it will only get worse from here. As American lives become more and more saturated with advertising, advertisers are effectively encouraged to make themselves more and more of an annoyance, and keep shoving themselves into our faces, in ever-increasing frequency and in more and more places. It’s a death spiral, I tell you, and it’s going to drive me insane if it keeps up. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!

    <ahem> Howard Beale-style moment concluded.

    It’s a good thing I don’t like tuna, ’cause I won’t have to boycott Bumblebee over this.

  32. cmbuzzkill says:

    Here’s an idea … just don’t press the button.

    For those who want to try more advanced thought-capable-human tricks, just ignore the display altogether.

    problem soled.

    • PsiCop says:

      @cmbuzzkill: And when not enough people press the button to satisfy the advertiser, what will they do? They’ll either make it autoplay, or in some other way force you to watch.

      If you think advertisers cook this scheme up with the idea of letting consumers “off the hook,” as it were, you’re wrong. They plan to snag eyeballs. And they will do it however they have to in order to make their wish reality.

    • Nytmare says:

      @cmbuzzkill: The solution proposed in the very first comment is much better than your idea, which by the way was so obvious that no one else felt the need to even mention it.

  33. savdavid says:

    One day they will beam commercials into our heads and dreams like in Futurama and Minority Report.

  34. Joeb5 says:

    Super market sweep had this back in the 90’s
    I think I saw it on UPN back then.

  35. zyodei says:

    I would like to run into this guy on the street. I would trick him into emptying his bank account and giving me the cash. You know how?

    1) I would say “Go to an ATM and withdraw all your money.”

    2) I would say “Now give it to me.”

    Pretty “tricky”, right?

    • Nytmare says:

      @zyodei: Where I live, we prefer our supermarkets to be more trustworthy than a stranger on the street. Or do you regularly buy your steaks out of the back of a van in an abandoned parking lot?

  36. The Marionette says:

    Eh, i really don’t see it as that big of a deal. There’s already ads in grocery stores, at least this one you won’t see it until you press the button.

  37. Jesse in Japan says:

    It’s very common to see things like that in Japan, only they don’t require a button press and pretty much just play continuously over and over forever.

  38. PLATTWORX says:

    I see the monitor is labeled “SmartSource”. The grocery stores, I am certain, pay nothing for this monitor and sign, it’s from the company that produces many of the coupons in your Sunday newspaper, SmartSource.

    SmartSource is put out by News America Marketing, which is owned by News Corp which also owns Fox News. Enough said.