x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Digital ads a sign of future times

Futuristic ad signage, reminiscent of technology that featured in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi film Minority Report, is being tested in the Middle East.

Ad signage that can recognise a consumer’s gender and age is very much a reality.
Ad signage that can recognise a consumer’s gender and age is very much a reality.

Face recognition Abu Dhabi firm tests intelligent advertising technology in its labs Ben Flanagan The next time you wander past an advertising hoarding, pay attention - it may be staring right back at you. Futuristic ad signage, reminiscent of technology that featured in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi film Minority Report, is being tested in the Middle East in what marketers hope will herald an age of "hyper-targeted" advertising messages.

The Spielberg film showed advertising boards that yelled messages to Tom Cruise's character in the movie, having identified him by scanning his eyes. While iris-scanning technology may be some way off, ad signage that can recognise a consumer's gender and age is very much a reality. Such technology is being tested by the outdoor advertising company Abu Dhabi Media Digital Out Of Home,part of the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns and publishes The National.

"We are testing it in our labs. [The technology] has the ability to recognise males from females, and adults from children," said Andrew Wood, the general manager at Abu Dhabi Media Digital Out Of Home. Mr Wood said part of the testing would be to ensure that the facial scans were acceptable "from a cultural sensitivity point of view". He added that the technology did not store images of consumers.

Mr Wood said the technology, which is to be rolled out in the second quarter of next year, would be used purely to gather numerical data, to give clients feedback as to the gender and age of consumers viewing specific advertisements. But other companies active in the Middle East are testing signage that delivers digital advertising messages specifically targeted to consumers according to their facial profiles.

Yoann el Jaouhari, the sales and marketing director at the outdoor advertising firm JCDecaux Middle East and Africa, said the company tested facial recognition technology last year and found it to be inaccurate. But the firm, which has the exclusive advertising rights for Dubai and Sharjah international airports, said it planned to test the technology again later this year. "We've decided to wait for the technology to improve. We will have another look by the end of the year," said Mr el Jaouhari.

He said the advantage of such software was that "you can change and adapt the message depending on who's looking at it". In Japan, the electronics giant NEC is testing the technology. The company's facial recognition software can reportedly identify a consumer's ethnicity, approximate age and their gender (the latter with 85-90 per cent accuracy) and then deliver an advert accordingly. Ian Gobey, the general manager at NEC Display Solutions in the Middle East, said the company had discussed the technology "with several of our signage partners" in the Middle East.

There were "no immediate plans" to introduce it in the region. He said the digital advertising market had to mature before facial recognition technology took off in the Middle East. Mr Gobey said cultural concerns specific to the Middle East could be a barrier to the take up of the technology. "What potentially counts against it is the cultural sensitivity to these kind of technologies."

bflanagan@thenational.ae