November 5, 2013Published by: Drew

Big Brother is watching you… so it can target you with coffee ads

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“Big Brother is watching you.”

The famous and haunting phase from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, in which a society is pictured under constant surveillance from an authoritarian government who could detect your every move and thought. This isn’t unlike the way modern brands are now using technology to monitor the way consumers behave.

Tesco this week announced it was going to begin introducing “minority report” style face-scanners to be installed in its petrol stations. This highly intrusive technology, aptly called OptimEyes, contains a hidden camera that scans queuing customers and detects their age range and sex. Using this information, the screens then plays targeted ten-second ads at customers. Although, arguably, not as prying as the WiFi bins which surreptitiously collected people’s data to target ads at them, it still does raise issues of privacy and people’s ownership of their data.

Targeted advertising is not a new practice but with the advent of smartphones and social media, marketeers have certainly taken advantage of the ubiquitous adoption of these technologies and the valuable customer insight they provide. According to a report by YouGov, online behavioural targeting accounted for 12% of all UK adspend in 2011. With access to customers' online shopping habits, interests and even social status readily available in some form through big data, it isn’t surprising that marketers will use this information to better sell products to our consumerist society.

Despite the uproar from some organisations such as Big Brother Watch, are consumers really against such an exploitative use of their personal data? Digital Advertising Alliance recently conducted a poll which seems to suggest consumers are rather blasé about behavioural advertising. The results, which were collated from a thousand adults, illustrated that only 4% of those who did the poll were in fact worried about behavioural targeting. Furthermore, the report showed that 70% of respondents liked seeing bespoke ads that appealed to their interests.

As smartphones and online sites become ever more prominent in society, it seems these advertising initiatives - such as Tesco’s OptimEyes - will become more prevalent. As long as brands don’t start targeting ads to us in our sleep, a society similar to the one described in 1984 is probably unlikely. Probably.

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