Three reasons to face the future of digital advertising


By Giles Longhurst | General Manager, Consumer Insight

March 9, 2012 | 2 min read

I recently read an article on the BBC about how a charity called Plan UK were running an outdoor advert that could recognise the gender of the viewer. The ad was to be placed on a bus stop outside Selfridges in London. Technology scans the face of the viewer, determines if the viewer is male or female and then shows a different ad for each gender. The claim is that the technology will pick the right gender over 90% of the time!

The possibilities of facial recognition really excite me and I can see a number of great uses for this type of technology within digital advertising.

Firstly it’s not a huge leap to think that it will be possible, as long as the relevant consents are in place, to recognise an individual by their unique facial characteristics. After all many computers and mobiles already come with camera technology that can be used for face to face conversations. Once you have this then you could start to track customers across all channels.

Let’s consider some of the things this could unlock; it’s still really difficult to tie footfall through stores back to internet or mobile purchases, but facial recognition technology could provide that link. You could even have cameras above shop entrances that recognise customers! Perhaps this is too Big Brother-like, but then again we might be surprised at how many customers would agree to this in return for some kind of reward or privilege.

Secondly, if you are serving ads through facial recognition technology then for the first time you can serve ads to individuals who use computers that are shared with others. What might this do to retargeting results?!

Thirdly, if you can recognise someone’s facial characteristics then you can identify other features such as types of clothes or accessories or maybe the type of location they are in (home, office or pub). If you can do this then you can start to put people in segments other than simply differentiating by gender.

So as well as location-based targeting of ads, the world of targeted advertising may just be about to face up to some interesting opportunities, so let’s watch this space!


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