Advertising and Technology:
How Advertisers Are Trying To Get Into Your Head
Drew Woodcock & Caroline Sweeney
Introduction to Advertising and Technology
The following is a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report:
Anderton walks in the door, gets his new eyes scanned, and we hear a voice say:
Hello, Mr. Yakamoto! Welcome back to the Gap.
Anderton stops cold as a holographic image of a huge Asian man now appears standing in front of him.
How'd those assorted tank tops work out for you? (Frank)
Many would think this scene seems like a stretch for the near future of advertising, but consider this quote regarding technology advancements in the last 50 years:
Fifty years ago, we were only beginning to have color television, The Wizard of Oz had just premiered on TV, a remote control had just been invented, and VCRs were still a long way ahead. Twenty-five years ago, Pac-Man was a popular novelty, CNN was one year old, and cell phones were yet to be introduced. Ten years ago, watching a movie online was still a dream. Five years ago, the world didn't know anything about iPods and podcasts, Google had just begun to sell its ads, and blogging was still a fringe nerdy thing to do (AdvertisingLab).
Where is the technology going to be in the year 2030? What is in store for the future of advertising and the next twenty-five years of technological development? The holographic display technology mentioned in the scene above is already being implemented in the market today. Advertisers have started to embed advertising directly into every facet of life and the actual consumer is now an advertiser’s most important medium. This chapter will discuss the future of advertising, as well as the possible threats this technology poses to consumer privacy.
Many Americans, by the time they arrive to work in the morning, have already been exposed to over 200 advertisements such as billboards, monitors, bus stops, etc. Advertising and marketing agencies are constantly inventing new ways to expose consumers to a barrage of ads that will potentially convince the shopper to invest in a particular product or brand. The original idea behind advertising was to inform potential customers of the benefits provided by a certain product or service to create differentiation between competing brands, as well as contending in the race with market competitors. The issue today is that consumers have begun to reject the excess amount of advertisements, or simply “tune” them out, due to the extreme overexposure on a day-to-day basis. Agencies are trying to determine new ways to break through all of the clutter and appeal to consumers in a more personal and targeted manner. What new technologies will advertisers take advantage of in the pursuit of targeting specific consumer segments? Will these technologies breach the privacy of the individual consumer?
Research on Privacy and Technology
The topic of this chapter revolves around the future aspirations of advertisers and the lengths at which they are willing to go to reach the consumer. In order to reveal the future implications of these techniques and technologies, an extensive amount of secondary research was done. A plethora of information was used to investigate the future of advertising practices in conjunction with technological advancements. This extensive research included scholarly journals, online databases, electronic articles, related organizations, libraries, and accredited web pages. The following is a portrayal of the current and future on-goings in the world of advertising, technology, and the effects on consumer privacy.
Advertising and Technology
A new gadget advertisers have been utilizing is digital signage. This fairly new technology allows retailers to use either projection devices or high definition monitors to effectively display advertisements which they hope will intrigue and inform the consumer. This advertising technology is being incorporated into malls and shopping centers across America and is very effective at catching the attention of potential customers within a close proximity. The idea is to grasp the attention of the customer long enough for sensors to pick up on certain physical attributes or characteristics. The sensors that are installed in the plasma screens and projectors have the capability to read the shopper’s face and determine whether the person is male or female, along with their age and race. The readings are connected to software that also has the capability to determine what, if any, products the customer is currently holding or looking at. With this information brands can quickly and easily identify key competitors in their market along with ways to create stronger product differentiation for their target segment.
The main struggle of this technology for retailers and advertisers is getting a customer’s attention long enough to obtain a reading or become influenced by the digital signage. Once the sensors have established who the customer is, the software displays an advertisement that could potentially appeal to the person based on the identified characteristics. But where do the advertisements come from? Advertisements are stored in a local computer that can be accessed by the retailer or any other authorized personnel, such as a firm that is always online with the signage source. Each ad has preset information assigned to it that tells the software which advertisement should be displayed based on the consumers’ characteristics. Signage options are also based on other external factors such as location, time of the year, and weather (Terdiman). According to David Polinchock, the founder and chairman of Brand Experience Lab, such marketing can increase sales by up to 300%. Polinchock further explains that "the more that you can target an ad specifically to what a person is looking for, what they might need and who they are, the better you have a chance to connect with those people.”
The problem with digital signage is that it is hard to obtain the attention of people in a distracting environment like a retail shopping center. This method of advertising is also very expensive to use. However, advertisers are inventing new ways to reach a cost effective method of using this high-tech platform. IBM has recently patented a system that could give advertisers the possibility of projecting images on walls at an angle. By putting this new technology in the corner of a room, the image could be projected on all four walls of a room, maximizing the effect. Another advantage of using a technology like IBM’s is that the projectors are much cheaper than the plasma displays currently being used. Regardless of future advancements, this technology is a valuable resource for advertisers and a possible threat to consumers.
Privacy Issues with Digital Signage
A shopper walks into a Target store and notices that there are several monitors in the entrance. The sensors in the monitors take a reading and load the purchase history of this particular customer. After scanning past purchases, the software recognizes that it has been several months since the customer has purchased new socks. The software installed in the monitor can then inquire of the customer whether they would like the usual brand and size of socks sent to the checkout stand along with the number of units needed. Voice recognition software can then read a response of “yes” or “no” from the costumer. If the shopper responds “yes,” the system will inform store employees to send the merchandise to the front and put it on hold for the consumer until they are finished shopping. If the customer responds “no,” the software will recommend other items that the customer may potentially be interested in. This technology seems to be the ultimate in convenience. But what if the software becomes too personal? For example, an obese shopper enters the store and is picked up by the digital signage monitors. The software would recognize that this person’s waist line has been increasing and decides to recommend some new exercise equipment. This may seem like an exaggerated circumstance, but what exactly will be considered crossing the line in regards to a shopper’s privacy?
One national supermarket chain, Stop & Shop, was searching for a way to address key issues customers were facing while shopping. Stop & Shop realized that finding competent employees who wanted to work for the long-term was challenging; so they looked into communications technology.
The grocery giant has recently implemented a new technology into many of its stores called the Shopping Buddy. Shopping Buddy is a “wireless touch screen browser device that attaches to a shopping cart and delivers personalized services and incentives to customers while they shop” (Tarnowski). When customers arrive at their local Stop & Shop, they grab a cart that holds a small monitor in the middle of the cart’s push handle. Shoppers simply swipe their member card, and a list is presented on the screen with an index of previously purchased items as well as many other recommendations based on the customer’s previous purchases.
Shopping Buddy contains a function that pinpoints where the shopper is in the store, ensuring that recommendations are relevant to the products the customer is currently looking at. The device also includes a wireless barcode scanner to give shoppers the convenience of scanning their items at the cart, saving potential check-out time. This tool is incredibly convenient for the customer and creates opportunities for companies who want to learn more about buyers’ habits and possible future purchasing decisions. The question that always arises is, how is this massive amount of consumer information is going to be used? Will these new technologies prove to be detrimental to consumer privacy, or will they continue to add convenience to everyday life?
Privacy Issues with Shopping Buddy
An ethical dilemma could arise if the grocery giant Stop & Shop decided to increase revenues by selling all of a consumer’s purchasing habits to a marketing research company, who could then release the information to that consumer’s health care provider. If the provider had possession of the consumer’s eating habits and noticed a pattern of unhealthy purchases, they could decide to increase insurance rates. On the other hand, shoppers who could prove excellent eating habits could have the possibility of their rates being lowered. So far, shoppers have only had praise for the new Shopping Buddy and have had no complaints about privacy issues, but it is possible that the use of these consumer information databases will soon have many customer issues and complaints regarding security and protection.
Mind Reading Computer
Professor Peter Robinson of the University of Cambridge, and a group of professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a camera-assisted computer that can understand what a person is thinking and feeling from their facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. This technology was debuted at the Royal Society in the summer of 2006, which is the National Academy of Sciences for the United Kingdom and is on the cutting edge of newest technologies.
The program has had high accuracy in test results and a working prototype is being completed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The computer program was as equally accurate as the top 6% of humans in picking out people’s moods and feelings. Similar to a mind reader, the computer is being programmed with over 400 different expressions and minute facial movements, such as a raised eyebrow or a squinted nose. The computer’s knowledge of emotions is being programmed by digitally recording actors, who make different movements and expressions to signify distinct feelings.
This technology could be used in many different aspects of human life in order to advertise to consumers in many diverse forms. It can be used to assist as well as advertise to people with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. It can be used to alert people with music advertisements while in their car, or it can be used to send advertisements based on a person’s mood anywhere there is a camera with this technology.
People with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome are generally seen as ‘mind blind’ because they have difficulty interpreting people’s moods and feelings from facial expressions and other non-verbal clues. This technology will help them to better communicate and understand how other people feel, because it can relay to them, in words, what a person’s facial expression might mean. In the same way the technology can help people with these disabilities, it can also help advertisers to target this special group of consumers, who have been harder to reach in the past. By relaying the mood of an advertisement back to these consumers they can better connect with the ads.
Professor Robinson is said to be working with a Japanese car company and has expectations that this video technology will be installed in cars within the next five years. Installation will probably begin as a luxury feature and then become a common addition to cars in the near future. The video camera in a person’s car will be able to read their facial expressions and deliver alerts to the driver. If the driver appears tired and falling asleep, the monitor in the car may advertise a nearby hotel or gas station where the driver could get some coffee. It can also play music in an effort to change a person’s mood. For example, if the program picks up facial expressions that symbolize sadness, the software might send a humorous advertisement or play cheerful songs.
Most importantly, this new technology is meant to tap into someone’s mind in order to send them the perfect advertisement for their mood and for their needs. Advertisers are always looking for new ways to determine how people really react to certain advertisements they place or products they develop. To tap into someone’s thoughts when they are making purchasing decisions or simply walking by is the next step in ‘becoming one’ with the consumer and is exactly what this new technology allows for (Scott).
Privacy Issues for Mind Reading Computers
As futuristic as the technology may seem, working prototypes and test results about the accuracy of this new ‘mind reading’ technology already exist. Now is the time to start thinking about how this might affect privacy and what the consequences might be. The biggest question will always be: who can get hold of the information collected and what can they do with it?
In the case of the video computer in a car, what if an insurance company or a potential employer received private driver information? If a driver is constantly about to fall asleep at the wheel or in an angry mood, this might suggest to an insurance company or employer that the person is not a responsible and may be a risky driver. An insurance company might in turn not want to insure the driver or give the driver good rates. Depending on the position, this information could potentially sway an employer not to hire a possible job candidate. Is this fair, or an invasion of personal privacy?
Offense could be taken, or someone’s well being may be affected by this new technology that has advertisements popping up all the time based on their perceived mood. Someone could be embarrassed if their facial expressions consistently give the program the impression that they are depressed or sad, and the software continues to recommend psychiatrists or antidepressants. This could have an effect on a person’s well being by perpetuating a bad mood or changing their mood for the worse by giving them the wrong readout. For instance, what is a person’s typical reaction to someone asking if they are in a bad mood when in reality, they are not? They would probably get angry or frustrated that others have the wrong impression of them and consequently, they might be put into a bad mood. False readings are a drawback of this software technology and could affect its future implementation.
Blogging can be a form of business-related communications via a website where anyone can make journal style entries and leave comments in an interactive format. Recently, companies have become much more aware of blogging and the effect it can have on their brand images. Companies are designating much more time and energy to monitoring blogs and Internet sites with comments and posts about their products. This gives them the ability to insert positive advertising into the communication stream to try and counteract any negative feedback people might be posting. (Steinberg)
In general, blogs are an anonymous way to share information and thoughts on any subject. This anonymity gives advertisers a way to insert subtle advertising and information onto a website without appearing biased, because no one knows who it is coming from. Before a lot of companies started harnessing the phenomenon of blogging, a consumer could be almost certain that the comments were coming from unbiased users of products; now it is necessary for consumers to think about which posts to trust as unprejudiced.
Privacy Issues for Blogging
Trust is the main privacy issue that someone might have to worry about in regards to blogging. Do consumers care if people are putting up positive advertisements to counteract a negative comment by someone who tried a product and was truly not satisfied? What if the advertisements and promotions by companies are not entirely factual? Once again, technology has preceded law making. As of spring 2007 the Commercial Speech Doctrine had not subjected this type of communication to the same regulations of other forms of advertising, essentially making blogging a current loophole for advertisers to give consumers misleading or biased information (Sprague).
Future Hotel Advertising
Another interesting place advertising technology might be changing is hotels. One possibility would transform hotels into retail showrooms, where a guest could essentially buy anything of interest in their room. Hyatt and Kimpton hotel chains have already implemented a system like this to advertise the products in their rooms. Personalized advertisements could also start showing up on a consumer’s hotel television based on any personal information the hotel may have collected about someone upon check-in. If someone puts anything in their hotel closet, their clothing might also subject them to more advertising, with future closets having the ability to read the radio frequency identification tags in clothing and be able to suggest new items and stores for the consumer to visit. One last way advertising might be implemented in someone’s hotel room is in the bathroom. The tile floor would be able to take a readout from bare feet and suggest health products, like vitamins and nutrients that a person might be lacking (Frary).
The possibilities are endless, and so are the privacy issues related to this potentially invasive form of advertising. The main privacy issue for hotel advertising is concerned with who has access to this personal information and if hotel guests are worried about this type of knowledge being available to others. This form of advertising could prove detrimental to business for hotels as well because some guests may feel bombarded by additional ads and sales of products in their hotel room, and may choose to take their business elsewhere. With regards to the conveyance of health information in a hotel bathroom, many may not wish to hear a report on their health while on vacation, or traveling for business. Another threat arises if this collected health information could be given to insurance companies who could then use it to judge a consumer’s health risks and potential policies. Only time will tell what consumer opinions will be regarding this new hotel advertising and its affects on privacy.
Consumer Privacy Issues
Society is constantly concerned with convenience in one’s life; an element that provides ease and simplicity to the consumer experience. Advertising and marketing agencies try to make everyone’s life easier in the hopes of subsequently making a profit. But are people willing to enjoy this convenience in exchange for an infringement of their privacy? Is society ready for these new technologies? The pivotal question that needs to be addressed is: will consumers of the world allow marketers, retailers, and advertisers to watch every decision and every move they make in order to provide convenience in the long run? Or do they even have a choice?
Many consumers argue that personalized advertising will not work on them because these new technologies, which create excitement among marketers, will in fact repel the targeted consumer. Instead of people being attracted to a customized shopping experience, they are turning away from it. But why, would it not be great to have every shopping experience tailored to a customer’s needs?
In order to address these questions a single question survey was developed. The top of the survey had a short note that read: “Advertisers today are constantly inventing new ways to target specific consumers and get into their heads. As new technologies bring about more convenient shopping methods, consumers will have to give up an increasing amount of personal information.” Following this statement was the survey’s sole question: “How willing are you to give up personal information in order for the consumer experience to become more convenient?” The respondent was then presented with a scale from one to seven, with one being “ultimate privacy” and seven being “ultimate convenience”, to rate their willingness to give up personal information for consumer convenience.
This scale portrayed the trade-off between privacy-convenience. The results of this question provided some interesting conclusions. Of the 50 respondents, 39 (78%) answered on the privacy side of the scale. It is not surprising that most people would like to have their personal information kept private. The other 11 respondents favored convenience, which implies an interest in the development of technology and a more personalized consumer experience. As mentioned previously, there are many techniques and tools that advertisers are using to get consumers to give up their personal information, and some consumers are participating willingly. Once again this creates concern regarding consumers surveyed who in the majority answered that they want to hold on to their privacy, but in actuality are divulging personal information on a daily basis.
Some consumers are opposed to the idea of mass consumer databases and implementing new technologies that track customers. In 1999, CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) was created in order to educate people about shopper surveillance. CASPIAN stands against the use of member cards in grocery stores that create savings to those that have them, while making those who are not members pay the full price. This group feels that while member cards may appear to benefit the cardholding consumer, they are in fact created to help the retailer. CASPIAN argues that the savings cards will only help the shopper in the short-term and will end up hurting them in the long run by creating a segmented market for many years to come. CASPIAN attempts to inform consumers about these practices through demonstrations, protests, and informing shoppers of local stores that do not track their customers. Although such groups can inform consumers about possible privacy issues, they cannot completely prevent advertisers from continuing to use such technologies. It is difficult to make laws and regulations against this information collection because the shopper is voluntarily giving up their personal information. The consumer is responsible for not divulging personal information to their local retailers if they want to prevent future privacy issues.
Advancements in technology have been growing exponentially for years, and are likely to continue expanding. Is whether the world prepared to take on the new advancements? Will the consumer be ready for the future of advertising and the privacy issues that will surface from advertisers’ attempts to become one with the consumer? The truth is best told through the words of Paco Underhill, “one of the poignancies of our era is that our technology has moved at lightning speeds past what our privacy laws are.” The goal of this technology and consumer tracking will be to improve the quality of life and it will be interesting to observe what regulations are put into place to protect the consumer of the future. The public can only hope that those with access to the information prevent a Big Brother world, and instead lead consumers into a future of convenience and simplicity without sacrificing security.
Christensen, Bill. “'Minority Report' Ads Are In Your Future.” 19 Sep. 2006. 11 Feb. 2007. http://www.informationliberation.com/ ?id=15926.
Frank, Scott. “Minority Report.” 16 May 2001. 3 March 2007. http://home.online.no/~bhundlan/scripts/MinorityReport_ frank.txt.
Frary, Mark. "Eye on the Future." Business Travel World Dec. 2006: 44-47. 09 Mar. 2007.
Scott, Mark. "This Computer May Be Too Smart." Business Week Online 14 July 2006: 10. 09 Mar. 2007.
Sprague, Bobert. "Business Blogs and Commercial Speech: a New Analytical Framework for the 21st Century." American Business Law Journal os 44.1 (2007): 127-159. 09 Mar. 2007.
Steinberg, Brian. "Minding the Blog is the Nest Big Thing in Managing Brand." Wall Street Journal 14 Feb. 2007, Eastern ed. ProQuest. University of Colorado Library. 09 Mar. 2007.
Stone, Gigi. “Advertisers Try New Ways To Get Into Your Head.” ABC News. 16 Dec. 2006. 11 Feb. 2007. http://www.abcnews.go.com/ WNT/Business/story?id= 2731799&page=1.
Tarnowski, Joseph. “Ahold’s Shopping Buddy.” Convenience Store News. 12 Oct. 2003. 11 Feb. 2007. http://web.ebscohost.com/bsi/ detail?vid=3&hid=3&sid= 5e08300c-3612-492f-95a2d96b62582cac% 40sessionmgr3.
Terdiman, Daniel. “Soon, Marketing Will Follow You.” Wired.com. 16 Dec. 2003. 21 Feb. 2007. http://www.wired.com/news/technology /1,61597-0.html.
C.A.S.P.I.A.N. Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering. 2004. 18 Feb. 2007. http://www.nocards.org.
RFID. Spychips. 2007. 21 Feb. 2007. http://www.spychips.com.
“White Noise on Future of Advertising.” Advertising Lab. 5 Feb. 2006. 26 Feb. 2007. http://adverlab.blogspot.com/2006/05/white-noise-on-future-of-advertising.html
Back to Top