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Twelve Years Later, "Minority Report" Advertising Is Here

Be afraid?

screenshot/"Minority Report"

Both television advertising revenue and online video advertising revenue are as high as they’ve ever been — about $80 billion and $3 billion, respectively. However, behind this facade of success, cracks are showing.

Advertisers might be making huge ad buys that add up to gaudy numbers in 2014 dollars, but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is actually working. According to a 2013 Nielsen study, both television and digital video ads only had about 20 percent to 50 percent message or brand retention with targets, with actual likeability hovering closer to between 15 percent and 30 percent. So only half of the targeted market could remember anything about the message, and the half who could remember wanted to forget it. Advertisers are spending more money and making more noise with increasingly diminished, or outright negative, effect.

How do advertisers and their audiences overcome this eternally frustrating Kabuki dance, one where the audience is willfully ignoring what it perceives to be an irrelevant message and advertisers keeping throwing good money after bad at an inefficient and ineffective strategy? The answer may lie in our own popular fiction.

Remember that scene from the 2002 sci-fi movie “Minority Report,” when a camera takes a retina scan of Tom Cruise’s character and a billboard calls out to him, “John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now”? An advertiser’s dream come true! We’re actually not that far from the kind of immersive direct targeting that will follow users outside of the Web browser and employ all kinds of measurement to divine what their itch is, and how advertising can help scratch it.

But is that really something you, the consumer, should be afraid of? In fact, passive, ambient and contextual feedback is hardly a new concept itself in the real world outside of sci-fi movies. Google first filed a patent in 2008 to do just this — create advertisements “based on the environmental condition” present in the background of voice communications. You know, Google — the same guys who probably unleashed the first real controversy of the online privacy wars when they started sifting through your email to serve you targeted ads. Now, no one has a second thought about it.

Beyond whatever Google/Minority Report Division might be working on, this is the direction in which all software is moving, and we’ve embraced it in the name of better and more individualized services.

Think about that little tracking device you gladly carry in your pocket. There are basic geolocation and geo-targeting apps like Foursquare, location serendipity apps like Highlight and Tinder, and location service apps like Uber. Users trade minimum privacy encroachment for maximum service gain.

Now, think about when you add the ACR fingerprinting technology in something like Shazam, which for seven years has been able to tell us what song is playing just by turning on the phone’s microphone for a few seconds. (Full disclosure: My company, Zample, uses the same kind of technology — a few seconds of ambient audio is turned into a fingerprint signature, the audio is then discarded on the device, and the fingerprint data file is sent through the cloud and matched with contextually relevant engagements.)

Location and sound are the second and third dimensions to the first dimension that was the user-initiated Web. That not only means the kind of personalized Web services that could lead to something not too far from the science fiction of the seductive audio OS in the recent film, “Her” — “Minority Report”’s softer and vaguely creepier cousin — but also better intelligence for the advertisers and better ads for those being advertised to.

Of course, there’s the matter of the privacy of that consumer. While it might raise some hackles in a post-PRISM age, is it really all that different from the tracking measures that have been in place since the dawn of the Web? Think of all those years of cookies that live on your computer. Isn’t something like digital fingerprinting just a reasonable, adaptive measure to a Web medium that itself is becoming more auditory? Privacy concerns are also less important to Generation Selfie, so willing to send almost every aspect of their private life to some server farm in Kentucky or Oregon. In terms of what has already been collected, something like a quick ACR fingerprint is less invasive than much of the other forms of online data that have been with us for several years.

The next generation of digital marketers are focusing on solutions like interactive advertising or native advertising, but the standard bearer of 21st century advertising technology will be the solution or platform that doesn’t treat the consumer like a child, the one that doesn’t annoy them, the one that doesn’t keep playing cheap tricks to get them to push a button. Ultimately, the best beer ad will be the one that knows a consumer wants that beer before even they do, and it will know how to find them at precisely that perfect moment.

Speaking of which: Now, how about that Guinness?

Shawn Patrick is a serial entrepreneur and marketing expert with more than 20 years of experience building technology companies in Silicon Valley. Shawn currently serves as chief marketing officer of Zample, a cloud-based media detection service focused on mobile advertising and brand measurement. Reach him @shawnpatrickx.

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