New Ad Tech – Consumer Behavior Tracking

Did you know while you’re driving down the highway advertisers may be tracking you?

Earlier this year Clear Channel Outdoor, who owns thousands of displays across the country, launched a new kind of consumer tracking technology the company is calling “RADAR”. It involves billboards, cameras and your cell phone. With today’s billboards, you can literally be a target on the road. Everybody who has a smart phone is essentially carrying a miniature surveillance device.


The RADAR system taps into mobile phone signals to track how well ads are doing their jobs, answering questions like who’s really buying a product, looking up a brand, or talking about it with friends after they see an ad. Clear Channel says the company can’t really see who you are and where you’re going though. If you want to prevent being tracked as part of the RADAR system the best way is to not only turn off location services, but your Bluetooth and Wifi as well. The system is designed to anonymously track traffic patterns about who’s passing ads and what they do next. How likely are people to talk about the product or service with their friends? Did they look up the company online after they saw an outdoor ad?


This consumer tracing concept comes as TVs and computers are starting to watch consumers. Last fall, as people around the world stared into their computer screens, the British Broadcasting Corporation was staring right back. The company was checking out the expressions on people’s faces as they read advertisements online. Using webcams, the company scanned 5,153 study participants’ for happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, puzzlement, and rejection of online ads.


The theory being to obtain a more accurate picture for how advertising really makes people feel. Instead of just asking focus groups how they feel, or what they think, just going straight to the subconscious source, and watching faces react in real time. Cool yes, but also kind of ‘Big Brotherish’ at the same time.


Facial recognition software has gained traction in recent years, and is often used for identifying people in photos. The State Department uses the technology to catalog faces of people registering for visas and passports into searchable databases. Nielsen is buying up facial recognition technology but so far hasn’t used the new approaches in any of its industry-standard TV ratings.


Facebook uses “DeepFace” to pin point who’s who in images so it can predict who you might want to tag. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also recently announced the company is also working on virtual reality technology that would more precisely trace where people are looking on-screen to deliver faster, higher-quality resolution virtual reality.


This new technology sounds fascinating to us and is sure to help us as advertiser’s better target ads. Time will tell how accurate of a picture it will tell in terms of consumer buying habits while balancing the voice of privacy advocates arguing that it’s, well, a little creepy.

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