While it may be true that many new inventors are subconsciously inspired by the science fiction of their childhoods, this form of inspiration is hardly seen in the world of outdoor media. Not so for OfferMoments – a company offering facial recognition-powered, programmatically-sold billboard tech directly inspired by the 2002 thriller, Minority Report.
“I was sat with my business partner, Shaz [Mughal], in our garage and we were trying to think up a new business idea,” recalled Abdul Alim, co-founder of OfferMoments. “We couldn’t think of anything so we went inside and watched Minority Report, where Tom Cruise walks towards a billboard and it changes. We thought it would be really good to create screens in real life that change when different people walk to towards them.”
So Alim and Mughal set about creating just that: a retail-based advertising screen that utilises facial recognition and mobile data technology to personalise offers as different consumers approach it. Shoppers can download the app to see their face broadcast on the screen, while the technology creates and displays a special offer or item suggestion from a nearby store specific to their demographic and personal tastes.
“We have a software development kit that sits inside gaming apps which sends the user's phone ID and social media handles to our cloud platform,” Alim explained to The Drum. “As the user then walks towards the billboard it queries the cloud for that passerby's demographic and creates an ad or offer in real-time using their social media photo and a product image.”
What’s really interesting about Alim and Mughal’s project – from a marketer’s perspective at least – is the fact they have inadvertently created a project with the potential to disrupt the media buying scene. Retailers that sign up to advertise using the technology plan their own campaigns with limited creative (the ads are all standardised to feature simply a logo, a product and accompanying text) and the planning process is agreed on through in-app programmatic bidding – meaning there is no need for advertisers to bring in media agencies.
“Every 30 seconds it checks who the highest bidder is and displays them in a slot on the screen,” said Alim, who likens the system to an out-of-home version of Google AdWords.
He, nor his co-founder had any experience of the marketing world – let alone the out of home world – before launching this venture. “We didn’t even know media agencies existed when we were building this thing,” Alim explained. “As we got deeper we realised that there’s not just media agencies, but buyers, creatives…and a lot of advertisers’ total spend is taken by all these people and all the steps, just to get an ad actually up on a billboard.”
OfferMoments believes the tech will both revolutionise and democratise out-of-home planning, allowing smaller companies in shopping centres the chance to buy out-of-home slots for a much cheaper price than before. “It’s also about accountability - you’ll know who is seeing what adverts at what time, and you’ll be able to see who responded to them and converted,” said Alim. “With traditional billboards, one million people could see your ad, but you’d never know who went and purchased because of it.”
OfferMoments has so far been funded by angel investor Michael “the Shellmeister” Edelson, director of Manchester United and former director of Asos. The company also won the People’s Choice award at Prince Andrew’s Pitch @ Palace programme, and has attracted both interest and wariness from the big players in the media space.
“I think billboard companies only see us as a rival if we were to launch our own network,” Alim said. “The only thing they don’t like about what we do is the pricing. They hate the pricing with a vengeance: you have to start the bidding from a penny and they think we can’t offer an impression for a penny.
“But we say, you offer it for a penny, but it will never stay at a penny. If you’re going to be inclusive and you’re going to be able to allow the smaller advertisers in, then you have to start at a low base line.”
OfferMoments has previously been in place at the Manchester Arndale centre, where the likes of Waterstones, New Look and Adidas were among the 200-plus advertising partners that signed up. It installed four screens in the centre in return for demographic data of its shoppers.
As for 2017, the startup is in talks to launch in “a very large shopping centre in London”, as well as some smaller outlets further north. Whether or not the big media players will respond to the tech with flattery, vengeance or imitation, only time will tell.