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Outdoor advertising, soon to be creepy September 18, 2008

Filed under: Marketing and Advertising — Stephanie Sheppard @ 4:49 am

In my short lifetime, outdoor advertising has changed a lot. And it looks like even bigger changes are on the horizon.

I remember the first time I saw a billboard that flipped between displays. It was a Southwest Airlines ad in California that rotated between the two ads like vertical blinds. As a kid, I thought that was so cool and much more eye-catching than the typical outdoor advertisement.

I’ve recently noticed many more animated billboards popping up along the I-10. Electronic signage has been around for a long time – I most closely associate it with concert venues scrolling upcoming lineups outside the building. But now, the billboards contain full-on graphic animation, like soda spilling out of a Coke cup. Basically, short videos.

Advertising Age reported today in “Outdoor Advertising That Looks Back at You” that new technology will use facial recognition systems to used in outdoor video advertising.

“Each unit can “read” passing faces to determine which are actually looking at the ads on that specific screen. They can also estimate the age, sex and level of interest of onlookers. And the systems can provide second-by-second data reports, something like outdoor advertising’s version of TV’s commercial ratings.”

This will have big implications for advertising, since outdoor advertising is difficult to track. You can’t guarantee that everyone who passes your billboard is in your traget audience. With magazines, newspapers, television, radio and even Web site advertising, it’s much easier to target specific audiences, demographics and interests.

I wonder if certain places will become much more expensive than others based on data collected with this new technology…

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3 Responses to “Outdoor advertising, soon to be creepy”

  1. Cicilie Says:

    It fills me with anxiety that I will someday walk up to a billboard and it will switch from an iPod ad to a Depends Undergarments ad. Although the concept is similar to the advertising scheme used by Google or Amazon, sites that learn your preferences and habits, and then display ads catering to those attributes, the significant difference is that Amazon and Google actually get to learn preferences by user demonstration. In the case Advertising Age describes, it sounds like the billboard is posting ads based on appearance-based assumptions. I would imagine the system will have to be well-tuned to eliminate racist, ageist, and sexist stereotypes. (Or it will just reinforce them.)

    And as for the system being able to determine my level of interest — there’s a lot of advertising I find fascinating, but not in a good way! Can facial recognition software really pin down the difference between my interest and my fascinated horror? And if so, does this mean that between Internet savvy search engines and all-too-perceptive billboards, my world will just keep shrinking to a point of only showing me what I already know and feel? Sounds kind of boring, to be honest.

  2. Ron Burgundy Says:

    When I drive from San Rafael to Alameda, there is a section of Highway 80 that is always bumper to bumper. There is a huge electronic billboard on the side of the road. Last week it had ads for Oakland Raider tickets among other things. I know that billboard has to be expensive. A driver spends so much time with it in sight, it’s almost like watching TV.

  3. Facial recognition is already in use by Nielsen. TV ratings used to be calculated simply by what channel the TV was tuned to. Then the devices got more sophisticated and could tell when people looked away – like during the commercials. It is only natural to extend this technology to outdoor buildboards.


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