Analysis & Opinion

The next wave of marketing: relevancy to personalization?

September 2, 2010 Mullen

Do you remember the movie Minority Report? You know – the movie with Tom Cruise that gives us an early glimpse of what things could be like in the future? The underlying premise is that someday the way of life as we know will be more advanced; computer screens and monitors will be replaced by holograms and someone will have the ability to read our minds and know our innermost secrets. Although this may seem a little far-fetched, technology is being developed to bring this kind of world closer to reality. And we may be even closer than you think.

Most of us are familiar with the outdoor campaign that Mini Cooper did back in 2007. The campaign was centered on the idea of customization. Mini owners often like to customize their vehicles as much as they can – down to the color of the racing stripe or the seat cushions. So why not deliver personalized messages that they receive as they are passing by their local billboard? Mini requested participation from owners around the country and eventually chose four cities to test this idea. Owners simply filled out a form with questions about themselves – the answers of which were then loaded onto a RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) enabled key fob they carried around with them. As the participants cruised around and passed by a specific billboard, a reader within the board would identify that person by their key fob, and a statement that was relevant only to them would be posted on the board. Pretty cool.

Now, in 2010, IBM UK is taking this idea a step further and working on a technology that would turn ordinary digital billboards into RFID readers. They are capitalizing on the fact that most of our credit cards and mobile phones now have built-in RFID chips that house all of your personal information – whether you like it or not. The idea is similar to Mini’s; a reader inside the board will identify you, potentially even by name, and deliver you a personalized advertisement. IBM says that this technology will prevent consumers from being bombarded by messages that are irrelevant to them and in turn will benefit the consumer.

As marketers, there is nothing more exciting than the premise of picking your target audience out of a crowd and speaking directly to them. For example, Stop & Shop could use this technology to serve up ads for the products that you most frequently purchase or showcase the deals at the store where you frequently shop. Or a brand like JetBlue could serve communication to a specific consumer who makes frequent trips to one particular city, touting their rates vs. their competitors.

This concept has three key implications: 1) less waste in a medium that is known for inefficiency, 2) media planners should have an easier time selling outdoor as part of the media mix if we can demonstrate its communication precision and 3) in the end, 1 to 1 messaging should equate to a higher ROI. Who wouldn’t want this, right?

There is some concern, however, that this technology is even being considered for advertising purposes. Some initial thoughts from critics are that this is an invasion of privacy at the highest level. The Mini campaign was a bit different because owners were able to opt in – and they were ultimately intrigued enough to want to participate. But do consumers really want brands to have the ability to see what type of toilet paper they buy and then have that posted on a digital billboard?

At the current time, there are myriad questions for brands and agencies to consider:

  • Will using this technology actually hurt our relationship with loyal consumers given its invasive nature?
  • Will our clients be flexible enough and willing to adapt to the idea of changing messages out as quickly as we need to – and by location?
  • Will the cost to participate outweigh the benefits?
  • Could the system ever be hacked to deliver phony messages?

It may be a while before we see this roll out in a form that is accessible to any and all brands. Overall, I think there will be a way for brands to use this technology without being overly invasive. But what do you think, advertising profession aside? How do you feel about this new form of outdoor?