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When “Minority Report” style Ads arrive, will Adland Control Itself?

August 20, 2013


With the recent approval of a Google patent for advertising tracking, we might just have been given a glimpse into the future of advertising.

It’s a world where everyone is wearing Google Glass or its equivalent, a world where every individuals exposure to advertising will be tracked on a couple of levels; one to monetize their “look” and secondly to determine the ads effectiveness by measuring the wearer or watchers emotional reactions. This applies to all ads, not just those online, according to Google’s patent, every ad that’s looked at can be measured.

Let’s assume that both the online and offline world is digital and that ads can be specifically tailored to the precise demographic of the audience of a movie at a specific time, or the crowd who passes a city bus shelter during the lunch hour, or at it’s most extreme, advertising content could be tailored specifically to the individual viewer- advertising will become infinite. The amount of content that will be needed for such a world is unimaginable, but it will obviously all be created by algorithms and robots, so human involvement will be kept to a minimum.

It’s either a great place is you are media company or an advertiser, or something rather scary, it depends on your perspective and place on the financial pecking order of this brave new world.

Of course, as with most things it’s not about what they are, but how they get used that matters.

Ryan Calo a law professor at the University of Washington is pretty concerned and he probably hasn’t even read Google’s patent application yet. Calo believes that we’ve reached the limits of the law regarding consumer rights with respect to advertising. He believes that lawmakers didn’t predict the future of where advertising would be heading and we are now at a point that deserves some discussion and debate.

The engine for Calo’s fear is “Big Data” which he believes will be used to target consumers on such a personal level as to render them powerless to resist their impulses. He gives an example of a husband being massively over-charged for a special bouquet because the florist knows it’s the day after his anniversary. To many, including some consumers, this might be a price worth paying, but to Calo it’s digital exploitation.

It’s been send a million times before, Minority Report style advertising is evolving into our new reality. Calo’s alternative suggestion to regulation is for the major internet services to be fee-based, I am not sure that’s a scenario that anyone really wants, especially consumers.

It’s clear that we are heading rapidly into a world where wearable computing, pervasive digital advertising and big data fuse into a beast with enormous power. What is done with that power depends on how far the industry is going to push it, what level of self-regulation is applied and if someone bigger decides they need to step in and do that job.

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