London advertisement targets consumers by gender with facial recognition


As reported by The Independent recently, a two-week trial for gender-specific targeting of advertisements is launching in London’s West End this week. Utilizing facial recognition technology, the interactive advertisement uses a high definition camera to scan pedestrians walking by a specific bus stop on Oxford Street. With a 90 percent accuracy rating, the computer built into the placement analyzes and guesses gender based on specific facial attributes of the jawline, cheekbones, nose and eyes. Based on the current guess of a pedestrian’s gender, the digital placement shows an advertisement targeted at a man or a woman. As this technology continues to be applied to the field of advertising, the computer could also make a judgement about a person’s age, race or body type.  

planuk-siteThe first advertisement in this placement on Oxford Street is being produced by a children’s charity called Plan UK. Linked to an ad campaign that promotes education of girls within impoverished countries, the digital placement will show a 40-second video when a female is scanned by the facial recognition software. If a male pedestrian is scanned by the advert, he will only see a brief message to take a look at the Plan UK site on the Internet for more information.

According to Plan UK chief executive Marie Staunton, she stated “We’re not giving men and boys the choice to see the full ad on this occasion – so they get a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away.” According to an article in the BBC News, the advertisement cost the organization £30,000, approximately $60,000, but they expect to raise a quarter of a million pounds in the next four months for the “Because I Am a Girl” cause.

planuk-busstopClear Channel UK and 3D Exposure are working together to integrate facial recognition technology with advertising and are responsible for ads that are being displayed within this placement. The placement also includes multi-touch technology similar to Apple’s iPad and the facial recognition software shows similarities to Microsoft’s Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360.

While the initial trial only includes one placement in London, Clear Channel UK communications manager Guy Melzack stated “We are currently working on a campaign by campaign basis, but if the technology proves to be popular, more screens could be installed,” in an interview with PCMag.

While The Open Rights Group called the advertisement “creepy,” this isn’t the first time that facial recognition technology has been used to target consumers. The Venetian resort in Las Vegas uses facial recognition tech to offer suggestions for possible entertainment and restaurant options. A group of bars in Chicago use the technology to analyze age as well the percentage of males and females at the bars. Using a smartphone, a potential customer can check the average age range and breakdown of gender before heading out. In an interview with the L.A. Times during August 2011, Intel director of retail marketing Christopher O’Malley stated “You can put this technology into kiosks, vending machines, digital signs. It’s going to become a much more common thing in the next few years.”

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