The Holy Grail for advertisers is coming ever closer - interactive billboards that recognize and target passers-by with custom ads, as imagined and portrayed for the 2002 neo-noir film, Minority Report starring Tom Cruise.
Digital posters that scan face-traffic and change the display when an onlooker’s attention is caught are now appearing in train stations, on bus stops and on the sides of buildings, but remain generic ads for a limited suite of products.
Digital dressing rooms, allowing shoppers to virtually see outfits superimposed on their likeness are already installed as a "look finder" feature in 77kids, the children’s subsidiary of clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters.
The underlying technology, Radio-Frequency Identification, was developed by electronics company NEC and is now being researched by Panasonic, Samsung, IBM and others.
RFID employs facial recognition software to determine gender and age and serve up ads that match the demo. The technology, as we've noted, is so sophisticated it can catch the nuance of a frown, a nod, or a raised eyebrow.
In the near future, the technology will match displays to individual profiles on a store-by-store basis and dynamically serve merchandise most relevant to that potential customer.
There's a bigger goal than creating a virtual change room. “What we are trying to do is figure out what your brain is doing. If your eyes are the window into the soul, we're paying attention to what you are paying attention to,” comments Benjamin Palmer, CEO Barbarian Group.
As facial recognition technology becomes more affordable, the monies saved by replacing generally targeted advertising with personalized adverts will be exponential for brands and for the industry at large.
"In Minority Report, the billboards recognise passers-by and play adverts that are specific for the individual. In the film, the billboards rely on scanning the person's eyeball, but we are using RFID technology that people are carrying around with them, so they can have a tailor made message," said Brian Innes, a research scientist at IBM.
R/GA, the digital agency that came up with the two-way in-store signage for American Eagle, says the interactive touchscreens now in 77kids stores allow kids to:
• See their reflection in a digital mirror and interact with a make-believe world of animated 77kids-branded characters.
• Select key 77kids outfits, which will appear on the user virtually, like a digital paper cutout.
• Play DJ and eventually select music to be played in the store.
• Pose for photos, which can be customized with personal messages and graffiti and then printed at the checkout area to take home or post in the store.
• Swipe 77kids loyalty cards to receive prizes and special offers.
Kids can also interact with a “follow-spot” game that projects 77kids graphics on the store floor. As they try to step on these images, the images move, hide, and reappear.
The in-store experiences are part of R/GA’s custom-built platform that enables the staff at 77kids stores to change and launch new styles, interactive messaging, scanned promotions, campaign elements, and applications according to each retail season.
The only change from the infamous billboard announcement from Minority Report — "John Anderton. You could use a Guinness right about now" — would be to come up with a more age-appropriate greeting for young shoppers.