Look out for Facial Recognition Marketing

All marketers would acknowledge that power has shifted from the brand-owner advertiser to the consumer over recent years, with technological innovations encouraging the latter to select what, when and how they consume media, and the advertising messages they wish to be exposed to. This has led to consumers creating their own entertainment with blogs and YouTube videos – Consumer Generated Media – and ultimately to Consumer Generated Advertising, where the public are invited by some brands to submit advertising ideas for commercial production.
Brand marketers had to find a way to regain control of the situation. And now they have a marketing tool which helps them do just that in Face Recognition Technology –  it enables the advertiser to identify the demographics of the potential customer in an instant, and to customise the choice of ad displayed to appeal specifically to the prospect. If you’ve seen the futuristic film Minority Report you may remember Tom Cruise’s shopping mall scene? Well it wasn’t just filmmakers fantasy – we have the technology and now it’s for real!

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Face Recognition Technology is commonly used by the authorities in the fight against crime and to identify terrorists at airports. At the basic level a hidden spycam scans the suspect’s facial features and compares them with photographic facial images already held in a database. The scanner records the structure, shape and proportions of the face by measuring the distance between eyes, nose, mouth and jaw. More sophisticated FR surveillance techniques involve 3-D scanners, facial thermography and skin texture analysis.

Now Facial Recognition Technology is being put to commercial use, with brand-owner advertisers and retailers employing the technique as a marketing tool in what is being called Facial Recognition Marketing, or FRM. Finally, The Brand Strikes Back!

Privacy issues are being raised as a concern, but the commercial applications of FRT differ to those being used by law enforcement agencies in that brand owners, at least for the present, are employing anonymous facial detection, pinpointing a demographic based on age and gender, not identifying individuals.


Here’s how it works … when a potential customer approaches a digital advertising hoarding, kiosk or vending machine an optical sensor becomes aware of their presence from up to 25 feet away. The camera then scans their face to take certain measurements and identify – with 90% accuracy – their gender, their age within five years and their disposition – smiling or otherwise. In less than 100 milliseconds the most appropriate advertising message for the so-defined indivdual is automatically selected and displayed. Effectively, the advertising message is targeted and self-optimised in real time – it’s the ultimate in personalised marketing. You can see it in action right here.

The Artificial Intelligence software learns as it goes along, in real time choosing to display the ad it considers most likely to prove effective for the particular audience. It can also provide analytical reporting of ad performance against specific demographic groups based on audience attention time, immediacy of interactive response, eye-tracking, and so on. More information about the technology and its capabilities can be found here.

FRM is particularly prevalent in Japan and the US, but it’s also hitting the UK in a big way. Adidas has tested it on UK digital street hoardings and on interactive shopping mall screens. And Kraft Foods has experimented with introducing face-scanning technology into their freezer cabinets so they’re able to suggest an appropriate meal for the type of customer identified. Some banks use FRM to identify younger customers most likely to be opening their first account. And FRM works with crowds too – some bar owners in Chicago use the technology to measure and reveal the male/female ratio and age mixes of their customers in real time so anyone planning a night out can first log-in with their mobile apps and check out the venue’s crowd mix.

NEC, who makes the FRM interactive display screens, has predicted that within just a few years years 10% of all digital signage will employ facial recognition technology.

Technology has empowered the consumer in recent years. So perhaps it’s fitting that through technology the balance of power may now be returning to the brand marketer? The future’s looking good for marketing – keep a watchful eye open for further developments …

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