I’m a sucker for a movie trailer. 

Or maybe, I'm just a sucker. 

That's the debate I’m wrestling with, or more accurately, the shame. Yes, it’s shame... but not for my love of movie trailers. I might not watch most of what I preview, but I'm always drawn to a 3-minute synopsis.

With the new year upon us, I recently dove into an app to see if anything upcoming caught my eye. Scrolling through, I found my first pick: Spaceman. I dig Sci-Fi.

As expected, I waited for the trailer to start - enduring the pre-roll ad's 15-second countdown before I could skip it. 

And then, it hit me: I’m a sucker.

I'm patient enough to tolerate ads for free content. I’m from a generation accustomed to timing tasks around a series of 30-second commercials.

But that’s not what this was. I wasn’t hurdling a couch to get back to the trailer. I didn’t even shift my position, though I'm aware I can walk with my phone, and it still works.

I didn’t even set it down, or take my eyes off it.

My eyes remained fixed on the screen, waiting for the precise moment the skip button would activate. I realized I was engulfed in this illusion of control. They had me.

It’s important to understand that little is left unstudied in advertising. Brands don’t need to listen to your phone to know how you, and hopefully millions like you, behave. I’ve produced ads like this, muted makes no difference. A visible counter and a skip button are enough to keep someone engaged. Muted or not, I’m bombarded with whatever fits into those 15 seconds. A logo's color, a jingle - it doesn’t matter; the brain picks up on something. I might think I'm ignoring it, but that's nearly impossible.

Honestly, I didn’t even remember the trailer. I was too busy recognizing that I’d been duped.

I was a sucker.

It was sinking in, how often this tactic worked on me. A timer, a growing bar - anything marking time before I could skip - was all it took to keep me captivated.

I knew I wasn’t the only one. These strategies wouldn’t exist if they weren’t effective. If I had to distill the algorithm, that's essentially it (as far as mass-media digital marketing goes, anyway). A.I. didn’t invent the concept of rewarding primates with a button to press. That’s old lab coat stuff. Sheep, lemmings, caged monkeys - choose your analogy. There I was, somewhat proud of uncovering the strategy, as if that meant I wouldn't be fooled again.

Here's the reality check: There’s no magic escape. No blue pill to jerk me out of the Matrix, all bald-headed, pale-skinned with USB ports over my body. All I have is newfound awareness. A moment of pause and recognition.

What do I choose next? It's not even about that. It's about knowing what I'm doing and owning it. This might even inspire ways to circumvent it (without resorting to payment).

Either way, I’ve made a real choice, not just the illusion of one.