A New “Look” at Traditional Advertising

Jessica Stober is a junior at Elon University and a social media intern at Eckel & Vaughan.

“Technology these days.” How often do you find yourself mumbling those words at new gadgets and innovations? Well, here’s one that will really make your jaw drop. The next time you look at a billboard, don’t be surprised if it’s looking back at you. That’s right, an advertisement that’s sizing you up.

When Vance Packard wrote his breakthrough book The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, little did he envision this bizarre possibility. Even though Packard revealed advertisers’ use of spooky psychological techniques, including subliminal tactics, to manipulate expectations and persuade unwitting shoppers to buy things, he had no idea what was coming.

Fast-forward almost six decades and we’ve grown accustomed to the Internet monitoring every page we visit and every click we make, interpreting our activity in order to show us a somehow-relevant advertisement. But it seems impossible for ads to monitor you on your walk to work, right? Think again.

Amscreen, a digital media outdoor advertising network in Europe, recently incorporated face detection technology into their advertisements. This technology will record not only how many people look at the ads, but the kind of people who do. So while you’re looking at an ad, it will know a) that you’re looking at it, b) your gender and c) a rough estimate of your age. With this information, Amscreen will be able to better analyze the demographics and success rate of their ads and adjust their messages accordingly. It’s a victory for advertisers, though it may be a little unsettling for the public.

As an advertising major, I find this technology to be fascinating and immediately think of its potential applications. It’s exciting that advertisers will be able to monitor the success of their print messages and modify them to the demographic that views them most often.

On the other hand, I am also leery that ads can follow me around everywhere I go. Amscreen has over 6,000 ads, mostly in gas stations and convenience stores. So imagine every time you’re standing in a line or pumping gas, there’s an advertisement flashing in your face. But hey, at least it’ll be relevant, right?

We’ve gotten used to personalized advertising online – all you have to do is Google one keyword and next thing you know, your screen is bordered with links to similar products. Many of us never expected this to impact traditional advertising. However, Amscreen saw the potential to gather the same metrics once limited to digital platforms through traditional means. With this advantage, they will be able to gain information about customers through both traditional and online advertising.

Amscreen isn’t the only one who’s taking advantage of face detection technology. Microsoft has also played with the idea of incorporating the software Kinect into their ads to see how many people are viewing them. But it goes even further than marketing – the New York Police Department has used face detection to identify criminals.

Seems as though the sky’s the limit these days when it comes to technological advancements. I’m sure the next time I find myself saying, “technology these days,” facial recognition will be commonplace. But for now, I remain constantly amazed by what’s possible and what, indeed, is happening in the world of advertising.