'Smart Billboards' Stare into Consumers' Souls

Dennis Faas's picture

A collection of entrepreneurs are now hoping to do for billboards what clicks have done for Internet advertisers. Billboards are slowly becoming equipped with small cameras that record the age, gender and duration of time consumers stare at advertisements. The information is then transmitted to a central database for analysis.

Advertisers measure the success of their products by paying close attention to the demographics of their audience. This data can easily be collected if extracted via Internet, television, and print resources, but what about seemingly immeasurable advertisements like those found on billboards? The only way to measure the effectiveness of these types of advertisements is to consider traffic counts and highway reports, though this cannot guarantee that those driving past actually look at the billboards. (Source: impactlab.com)

Many believe that "smart billboards" will raise a number of privacy concerns. While the public has accepted being under surveillance in some locations such as grocery stores and banks, the consensus among many is that the invasion of privacy in these situations are necessary for the safety of the general public.

Others are outraged that "smart billboards" lack warning signs and offer no indication that consumers are being watched.

The start-up companies behind the cameras have argued that the software used in the billboards does not store any actual images or videos. The cameras use specialized software to determine a silhouette of a person standing in front of a billboard. It then analyzes facial features (cheekbone height; distance between nose and chin) to determine the gender and age of the consumer. (Source: nytimes.com)

But why is this information important?

Advertisers will use the data collected from "smart billboards" to immediately show different products depending on who is standing in front of the billboard. A 15-year-old male will almost always see a different product advertised compared to those a 55-year-old female would see.

"Smart billboards" have started to appear in places all over China and in parts of Europe. While the introduction into North America is slow and forthcoming, surveillance billboards could spread in popularity depending on the ways in which the public responds to these initial models.

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