Marketing from the Grocery Aisles: Big Advertiser is Watching!

Tesco, a large U.K. retailer, has been putting face scanners in its gas stations, which after imaging shoppers’ faces presents ads based on their perceived gender and age. Imagine waiting in line to pay for your gas, and an ad pops up for hemorrhoid treatment because you’re older woman. Or a buy-one, get-one-free ad for condoms because you’re a man in your twenties.

The OptimEyes system, developed by Amscreen, is making on-demand, gender- and age-specific advertising a reality in 450 Tesco locations throughout Europe.

Facedeals, developed by Nashville-based ad agency Redpepper, takes a similar approach, using facial recognition to send personalized coupons to your mobile phone when you visit participating bars, cafes, and others businesses. The difference is you opt-in via Facebook and are presented with deals tied to your Facebook “Likes.”

Meanwhile, software, which previously was used for spotting and thwarting shoplifters and persons-of-interest are being re-purposed to identity and track important visitors, and big spenders.Big Brother NEC Corporation is developing V.I.P. Identification, which monitors images captured by surveillance cameras and systems, and then matches them to the faces of individuals already in a database.

When a person of interest is identified by the facial recognition software, an alert can be sent to a hospitality, security or other manager who can greet with enthusiasm or chaperon out the door with disdain, depending on the person’s history. According to NEC, a match can be made in less than a second.

Using facial recognition technology to identify and apprehend people of interest isn’t new. FaceFirst touts the ability to use their software to recognize shoplifters, celebrities, and shoppers with the “biggest wallets” and “deepest pockets.” Their solutions are deployed in several industries: Airports and transportation, gaming, law enforcement, retail, and commercial security (i.e. office building, housing,  etc.).

While we’re deeply value our privacy and are wary of “big brother,” we’re relieved when public cameras capture an act of violence, and the footage provides law enforcement with enough information to quickly apprehend a perpetrator, like the Boston Marathon bombers.

On the other hand, we frown at the notion of being “watched.” Yet, for decades we’re been “watched” while shopping at grocery, department, jewelry, and electronic stores; wandering through malls and public places, and visiting airports, governmental buildings, and museums.

Even though I’m not thrilled with my body be scanned at an airport, I’m completely creeped-out, knowing a security dweeb is peaking at me while I’m trying on clothes in a dressing rooms.

There are multitude of discussions and legislation surrounding surveillance, facial recognition, and other technologies, designed to keep us safe, minimize theft (or at least gather the evidence to apprehend and prosecute), and possibly provide a richer shopping experience. We’ve come a long ways from when we emerged from a grove of trees dressed in loincloths, and came face-to-face with a woolly mammoth, lion or bear who immediately recognized us as lunch.

Whether you’re okay with advertisers scanner your face, and instantly transmitting a coupon to your phone or spitting it out from a a point-of-purchase printer depends on your willingness to relinquish a few moments of privacy to save a few cents at the cash register, where a security camera is probably already watching you!

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