Explainer: Facial-Recognition Targeting

What is it: Facial-recognition technology, which allows machines to recognize specific facial features — often by comparing them with a database of facial photos — is now being used in ad targeting to enable in-store display to show ads geared towards specific populations.

How it Works: The technology, which has been used by law enforcement agencies for decades, uses an embedded camera in digital signage to scan passers-by as they approach the signage. The display then shows ads appropriate for a chosen audience based on age, gender or other variables. This allows a store or a mall to show ads for multiple product lines, targeted to consumers as they walk by.
Who is Using it: Kraft has tested facial recognition in store kiosks, and Adidas is currently planning to test the technology in stores in the U.S. and Britain. Microsoft and Intel have also developed the technology for some clients. The technology has been used in Japan since 2010.
Why it Matters: When it comes to interactivity and sophisticated targeting, digital outdoor advertising has been playing catch-up with the rest of digital advertising for years. Facial-recognition technology, although fraught with controversy, promises to bring the medium back into industry conversation.
Assessment: The problem with using facial-recognition technology is that although it might make in-store digital advertising more relevant to consumers, it won’t make the quality of the ads better or be able to accommodate the interests of mixed groups. There’s also always the possibility that privacy groups will object to the this sort of targeting and make waves.
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