According to a patent filed in 2011, retailers now have the ability to find out when you are getting romantic with your partner and serve up ads for contraceptives. Here's another chance for CIOs and CMOs to work together to stop some madness and make some money.
Verizon holds the patent on a DVR which it calls "action aware." It will scan the living room for "ambient actions" like "fighting" or "cuddling." The DVR will then serve appropriate ads for the mood of the room, presumably improving the chances you'll buy the product. Combine this with yesterday's article on one-hour delivery and I suppose you could create a romantic evening of flowers, candles, and lingerie before the end of the movie.
I think we can all agree that this is 20 steps too far. It is so far over the privacy line that any company trying to make use of this would be instantly punished with an Internet backlash that would make the backlash over advertisement emails retailers sent during Hurricane Sandy look like a lovefest.
But there are more legitimate uses for this technology that CMOs and CIOs can make use of. The key piece of technology to make this work is digital interactive signage.
Where it is creepy to imagine Verizon watching us cuddle (and they probably realize this, too, since the patent is over a year old and they aren't making use of it), watching us in a retail environment might be more acceptable if executed correctly.
The advantage to interactive signage is that it provides real-time information and responses to our needs. Right now, that might mean a touch-screen interactive map of a mall. But what if you were walking by the sign and the sign saw you were with a child who was dancing like little kids do when they need to use the restroom? It could easily show the nearest restroom. Or if you're more humorously inclined, an ad for diapers.
Retailers have been tracking us in-store and checking on our emotions for some time, but until now, they've done it passively. They've tracked the eyes of a consumer as they viewed a store shelf to better stock those shelves to put products in the right place, or they've watched the path you take as you wander their aisles. Now, they can see what you're looking at and serve an ad or additional information about it.
Putting this together right takes some cooperation from the CIO and CMO. And some smart steps:
Experiment -- Verizon's example of showing contraceptive ads because people are snuggling shows a ham-fisted approach. Not everything a human does presents direct buying action. Sure, if you know I'm hungry and you advertise food, I might be more prone to buy it. What do I need to be doing to sell me a power sander? Clearly, it won't be sanding.
Track real-time sales -- If you serve an ad because you see someone perform an action, the only way to marry the sale to the ad is to track real-time sales. Work with partners to track the sale in as much detail as possible, including tracking the person through the rest of the store.
Make it a service -- If you only do this for sales purposes, people are going to be less inclined to like it. But if you anticipate other needs (helping people who look lost, for instance) and provide services, too, it will make them more comfortable.
Avoid the creepy factor -- Frankly, this is going to creep some people out. But it will creep people out a lot less if it doesn't seem quite so direct. Start small and work your way up rather than finding yourself embarrassed because you served an ad for Pepto-Bismol because they threw up in front of your action-aware device.
This is actually going to take some serious work, and a lot of people will fumble it. And maybe it isn't a good idea except in some very specialized cases. But no matter what, it isn't going to work without the CIO and CMO working closely together.