Facial Recognition ad

Personalised marketing – creepy, or cool?

Personalised outdoor advertising is opening up an exciting new frontier as psychology, data and marketing grow closer – but it’s not without its risks says Nicola Roberts, director of creative.

The first wave of personalised marketing saw a number of popular campaigns come to the fore. Burberry’s ‘My Burberry’ campaign, which allowed consumers to create virtual monogrammed perfume bottles via interactive TV, billboard and social media ads was well received. Coca-Cola’s now-iconic ‘Share a coke’ campaign was too, which, in addition to thirsty consumers being able to hunt down their named bottles in store, also allowed them to download personalised wallpapers for phones and tablets with customer demand seeing the addition of thousands more names.

But, as the techniques and technologies evolve, it follows that people are asking how far this type of marketing can go, and how much can advertisers know, before they’re just plain creepy?

Take the adverts now being broadcast on the iconic digital billboard at Piccadilly Circus. Launched in October 2017 amid comparisons to sci-fi film Minority Report, adverts tailored to the age, gender, and mood of passing pedestrians, as well as the weather, can be broadcast on the re-vamped ‘Piccadilly Lights’ thanks to a facial-recognition system and external sensors embedded within the billboard.

Algorithms are now advanced enough to allow a customer’s identity to be integrated into an advert through the analysis of behavioural information. Perhaps more interesting to communications professionals than the billboard’s technology itself however, is the ethical question over whether it steps into invasive marketing territory by failing to obtain consent from passers-by – when did consumers agree to be weighed, measured and found wanting (a new handbag) by a billboard?

Its developer, Landsec, says no personal data will be collected or stored. Promises like this will be even more strictly enforced when the General Data Protection Regulations come into effect in 2018 in a bid to further strengthen and safeguard consumer rights, and in theory should offer advertisers and brands a framework for best practice. Whether that is enough to convince Joe Public that Big Brother isn’t watching them, remains to be seen.

It seems the giants of advertising are at a crossroads – and we’re not just referring to Piccadilly Circus. Despite ethical and regulatory risks, the incentive to mastering this style of advertising is undoubtedly there. Being able to engage with individual consumers in a dynamic way while still on a mass scale has opened up a new world for brands to explore, and is perhaps the natural next step in a world where data-driven information is becoming increasingly available at our fingertips. Our advice? Approach personalisation with care and work with an experienced agency to ensure you get the right message, in front of the right people, in the right way.

Freshwater provides an integrated, multichannel marketing and advertising service.




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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017