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Minority Report and facial recognition advertising today

No matter which sanctuary you try and hide out in, it seems someone is there, lurking, waiting to have a big chat about targeted advertising. Love or loathe, we’re still only on the cusp of what it can offer.
In digital it’s old news, from one perspective at least. When you’re browsing the internet chances are web history is an omnipresent shadow all-too-familiar, ready to offer you another watch from the same store you bought your last one from, remind you of that night in the pub when eBay was better than the conversation, or prompt you to make another booking in that hotel you and the ex you’re still getting over stayed in that time.
From a consumer perspective it’s a good and a bad thing. More accuracy and relevancy means sometimes something pops up that you’re actually interested in. More direct, to-the-person sales means a more intrusive experience, and the idea of machines understanding our likes and dislikes better than the aunt who will definitely be buying you another ill-fitting Technicolor top for Christmas this year, is alarming for many.
Displays in the real world are catching up, too, and a key driving force behind this is facial recognition advertising. We have seen in the past how a Women’s Aid poster (lead picture) raising awareness about domestic violence, Blind Eye, reacted the more people stared at it. Bruises faded because people were paying attention to the issue, and it was so powerful it made our 2015 successes and gaffes newsletter post for the right reasons.
This year, P&G and computer vision firm GumGum worked on auto-recognition of faces of athlete’s involved in the Thank You Mum Olympics P&G campaign. Pictures could have adverts assigned to them, with every sportsperson trackable down to each individual posting or share of the image. A goldmine for analysing reach. And Plan UK’s Because I’m A Girl posters could tell if people at bus stops were male or female, offering a different advert depending on gender.
One of the most significant ideas being touted for the near future will take place in-stores, with loyal shoppers identified on arrival, opening up all kinds of opportunities for next-level VIP and personal shopping experiences, the likes of which genuinely nod to that bit in the movie Minority Report when Tom Cruise goes on the hunt for new togs in GAP, whilst wearing another man’s eyeballs.

Hopefully making the most of your friend’s discount card won’t come to that, but it’s certainly something of a game changer. Elsewhere, Apple has an active patent that shows investigation into facial recognition for unlocking devices. Google, Tesco and Facebook are also experimenting with facial recognition technology.
Facebook Facedeals suggests one way in which this could happen on a big scale. Devised by an Atlanta ad agency, Redpepper, basically the idea is whenever someone signed up to Facedeals on Facebook and walked into a bar, restaurant, nightclub or store fitted with a Facedeal camera, they are immediately checked-in for discounts, without having to touch their phone. We’ve not heard much about this since 2012, so it’s not clear what’s happening, but the core concept is there.
12 months later, Virgin Mobile created a video that could be controlled by the viewer using eye movements alone (Blinkwashing). And as we reported back in July 2013, Dutch coffee giant Douwe Egberts once installed a drinks machine in a South African airport that would dispense freebies whenever someone walked passed yawning. Now consider what the possibilities are almost four years on.

Of course all this raises the original point we made about targeted ads. How much is too much and when is enough? If you’re talking about reductions at your favourite store, applied on checkout, without having to do anything, and a guarantee personal information is treated confidentially, then it sounds OK. If you can’t even walk into your local anymore without everyone on Facebook knowing you’re there, just for half-price pints, it begins to look less favourable.
But what do you think?

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