Facial Recognition: Ads Target Consumers for You

Think of it as the new programmatic ad.

Facial recognition in advertising is here to stay. Consumers walking past billboards can now see and hear real-time, personalized marketing based on their genders, ages and even moods. Transparency Market Research forecasts the global market for facial recognition as reaching nearly $2.7 billion by 2022.

Marketers who believe consumers will be apprehensive about out-of-home ads invading their privacy may be wrong, according to the ContentStandard by Skyword.

“Seventy-five percent of consumers would not shop at a store using face recognition technology for marketing purposes, a First Insight survey found,” reads the Sept. 9 post by Krystal Overmyer. “However, 55 percent said they would be open to the technology if they knew a benefit was associated with it, such as discounts.”

Plus, marketers concerned that their creative talents will no longer be valued may want to note that someone has to write the copy for the dynamic ads being served.

For instance, M&C Saatchi London is discovering machine-manufactured text reads like cut-and-paste gibberish and that isn’t working very well for Bahio coffee, according to a July 2015 article in the Guardian about a billboard that’s tracked the reactions of 42,000 people.

“Phrases such as ‘It’s late excellent blend time’ and ‘Bahio is the new steam’ are unlikely to see an algorithm waltz off with a Cannes Lions come next summer,” writes the Guardian of the London billboard.

An article in Quartz on Tuesday takes the consumer angle on the coffee billboard tactics. “Ads Have Started Watching You Back, Which Is Not Creepy at All,” reads the headline of the piece written by Corinne Purtill.

“Using a Microsoft Kinect camera — the same device some Xbox fans worried was tracking their faces for targeted ads — the poster scanned the facial expressions of up to 12 people in its vicinity,” she says. “Over time, the images and taglines changed to reflect viewers’ reactions.”

Gender factored into a campaign Target Marketing profiled in May 2015 in “Snap Pictures of Women on the Street, Sell Beer.”

“A camera flash goes off in a woman’s face,” reads the article. “She smiles, laughs and watches a beer ad on the bus stop billboard she had been passing. Men and underage girls are told to keep walking by the man in the digital billboard on the bus stop in Germany. It’s Astra Bierre’s ad targeting women via facial recognition in order to acquire new drinkers.”

The Sept. 9 article in ContentStandard by Skyword goes on to explain three types of technology marketers can use in this effort:

  • Face Detection Software. This is how smartphones focus on faces for photos.
  • Facial Characterization Technology. This tool helped the German billboard detect age and gender.
  • Facial Recognition Software. This tech helps the user identify an unknown person. “For example, Facebook uses such recognition technology to identify people in photos on the site with incredible accuracy.”

How are marketers using this technology? Please respond in the comments section below.


Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.
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