I was recently subjected to a spate of ads on my Facebook page crudely targeting me specifically by my age. I didn’t find this engaging, but rather intrusive and hectoring. It got me thinking about the dangers of media that knows too much about its viewers. I’m OK with the fact that when you view content on the web the banner ads reflect things you have recently been searching for or looking at. I don’t mind getting targeted for theatre tickets or shed paint if that’s what I have been viewing. The creativity of the ads is also not compromised in this kind of scenario. However if a billboard was to change its message to reflect something personal about the viewer, this might be sinister or even slightly threatening.
In Tokyo at the moment just such a billboard is being trialled. Fitted with a camera it can work out your age and sex and change the ad displayed accordingly. This might just be the start. In the future the camera might be able to tap into online information about you. While the possibilities might seem endless for the advertiser, a large proportion of the target audience might be fairly horrified by this, feeling their privacy was being grossly infringed. An advertisement’s ability to charm would also be compromised by such a direct approach. Subtlety has always been the most successful way to persuade consumers, especially the English who have never liked the hard sell. Banging them over the head tends to be counterproductive.
So will we see this innovation in the UK? More than likely this digital version of the foot-in-the-door salesman will arrive here soon. Poster companies need to regain some of the media spend lost to the internet. When it does arrive however, advertisers would do well to remember that knowing something about your target market doesn’t mean ramming it down their throats. I would suggest “Hey you look menopausal, try this HRT” is never going to be a successful headline. As ever, gently engaging your audience with something they are likely to identify with is the key to sales success. We’re all only human after all.