Tokyo billboards can guess your age, gender

Paul Raven @ 16-07-2010

The technological evolution of billboards continues apace. Three years ago we mentioned billboards that can track the attention paid to them; then there were the billboards that could beam directed soundwaves right into your ears (and your ears alone); then there was the suggestion of billboards that you could hit with a high-5 from your Body Area Network in order to receive more relevant ads. The next step? Hi-tech billboards are on trial in Tokyo, and they’re supposed to be able to assess your age demographic and gender.

This is another one of the arms races of evolutionary psychology, I suspect; the smarter advertising becomes, the more resistant to its more basic forms we’ll get. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking… after all, the only reason there’s money in spam emails is because people are stupid enough to click on the damned things.


California proposes car license plates with electronic ads

Paul Raven @ 21-06-2010

Well, things are pretty tight in California, money-wise, so you can’t fault them for looking to cut that deficit. But this proposal is bad news for anyone frustrated by the ubiquity of advertising on every surface of the world: electronic license plates which show the vehicle’s code number while in motion, but which switch to (presumably network-served) adverts after a few seconds of coming to a halt [via SlashDot].

Regular readers (and, indeed, anyone with the remotest knowledge of how electronic technology actually works, if only in the abstract) will doubtless have spotted more fundamental problem, but just in case, I’ll remind you that Everything Can And Will Be Hacked. Hell, there’s already a proof-of-concept for electronic billboard exploits. So the no-mercy breed of road-warrior may want to avoid cutting in front of more geeky communters should these things go into production…


Outside the media: the geofenced future of advertising

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2010

Geolocation + smartphones + permission marketing – [old media channels] = ?

The campaign was created by Placecast, a location-based mobile ad company in San Francisco. It uses a practice called geo-fencing, which draws a virtual perimeter around a particular location. When someone steps into the geo-fenced area, a text message is sent, but only if consumers have opted in to receive messages.

[…]

Placecast created 1,000 geo-fences in and around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, cities where the North Face has many stores and areas that get a lot of snow or rain, so the company can tailor its messages to the weather. In urban areas, the fences are up to half a mile around stores, and in suburban areas they are up to a mile around stores.

Stowe Boyd reckons it’ll stick, and I’m inclined to agree.

It is going to be huge, especially with young people who text preferentially over talking on their phones. And of course, the retailers will pay for the messages.

And even better than come-ons like these will be the coupons. I am driving past the local Giant supermaket, and I get a text message with an attachment: 2 coupons for brands that I have registered at the Giant website. […]

But what Miller completely forgets to mention is that this is direct advertising, like direct mail was. This will end run the media companies who have made their bread and butter from advertising and coupons. If Domino’s can text me a code to get two pizzas half off today, why would the[y] advertise in the local paper?

If the future of advertising is direct and opt-in, through mobile devices to the consumer, the media lose the support of retail and local advertisers.

Yes, consumers still need to learn about PF Chiangs in the first place, but that is much more likely to be a direct experience, too, like going there with friends and then signing up for text-based promotions because it’s mentioned on the menu, or a friend uses a coupon or discount code.

The future of advertising is moving outside of media, and that’s another nail in the coffin for traditional print media.

And of course, there’ll be ways to game the locational ads system, too; step beyond the text message coupons and into mobile map apps, and suddenly there’s an incentive not to send you by the shortest route, but by the most lucrative – a brainwave courtesy of Jan Chipchase, caught in traffic in Virginia:

… the result I suspect of a sat-nav that decided that every possible road-works was a Point of Interest. Which might sound a bit far fetched today, until you consider that someone somewhere is drawing on ever more reams of data to serve up your your route – and someone else somewhere else is using every tool in their disposable to cajole individuals of interest past places ‘of interest’.

When the company pitching you advertising *also* calculates the most ‘efficient’ route to take from A to B you need to ask the criteria by wh[ich] efficiency is measured. And keep asking – the answer will likely change with the ebb and flow of financial results.

Of course, you could always turn off your phone, foregoing the navigational assistance in exchange for freedom from interstitial marketing. But then there’s a 93% chance that your route will be guessed by analysis of your previous movements, so you might as well leave it on and hope for a good open-source ad-blocker app…

… though this is almost certainly more worth worrying about than geolocational robbery crews.


Billboard hacking hits Moscow

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2010

Back in the final gasps of last year, I mentioned that I fully expected to see the new breed of digital billboards become a target for hackers and adbusters, much as they are in Lauren Beukes’ gritty Cape Town post-cyberpunk novel Moxyland.

However, I didn’t expect to see it quite so soon as this; the Independent reports briefly on a downtown Moscow billboard that was tweaked to display two minutes of hardcore pornography to an audience of late-night commuters. Remember, people: Everything Can and Will Be Hacked.


Fighting back against the advertising overload

Paul Raven @ 28-12-2009

behind the billboardsSo, welcome back! Did you have a good holiday? I did… though the season comes with its share of annoyances, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be a happy human if you never see a perfume or aftershave advert again for as long as you live.

But pity the Los Anglelinos for a moment, because at least you can turn off (or away from) the glare of television advertising. Not so with the spreading crop of digital billboards; the LA Times reports on the efforts of local residents to combat the 24-hour lightbath they provide, most of which involve questioning the legality of the permits acquired by the billboard companies [via @Ballardian, who in turn got it from @BLDGBLOG].

Sadly, I suspect the protesting residents will end up looking like King Canute over the long haul. But I also fully expect we will see digital signage become a target for activist hacker types, as speculatively predicted by Lauren Beukes in her recent near-future post-cyberpunk novel Moxyland (which I reviewed for Strange Horizons a little while back, and heartily recommend to readers who enjoy the sort of fiction we publish here at Futurismic). Everything Can And Will be Hacked, after all… and digital advertising media offer all sorts of new and cunning opportunities for a smart adbuster or subcultural counterpropagandist.

Naturally, the billboard companies will push back hard against their opponents (and I’d fully expect legal grey areas to be colonised by both sides of the fight). But there’s one company that makes its money through advertising that doesn’t seem too worried about people trying to prevent ads intruding on them. That company is Google (of course), who’ve cheerily announced that they’re unconcerned about people building ad-block extensions for their Chrome browser… and that they suspect ad-blocking will actually save online advertising as a business model by a sort of Darwinian selection process [via SlashDot]. Says Google engineering director Linus Upson:

“It’s unlikely that ad blockers will get to the level where they imperil the advertising market, because if advertising is so annoying that a large segment of the population wants to block it, then advertising needs to get less annoying.

“There will always be some group of people who want to block ads for personal reasons. But if we do a good job on the advertising side, people won’t want to block ads. People will find them actually useful.

“I think there will be a nice equilibrium. If people get too aggressive with ads, then ad blockers will become more popular and companies will get less aggressive with ads. The market will sort itself.”

An unfashionable faith in market forces, there, but I rather suspect it’ll be vindicated in the long run. And hey, let’s be positive – maybe the arrival of ubiquitous augmented reality will spell the end of ugly billboards, digital or otherwise. Who’s gonna build them once it’s easy to ensure you never see them? [image by Omar Omar]


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