Signs of the Times

Divine, aka Harris Glenn MilsteadIt absolutely had to happen.

Reports from Japan are that facial-recognition technology is now being incorporated into mall signage wherein the age and gender of passersby are discerned before displaying “demographic appropriate” advertisements to them as they walk by.

NEC, a multinational electronics firm, is experimenting with biometric technology. the ability to scan faces to detect gender and age within a range of 10 years. Not only is the technology being tested in mall signage, but also in vending machinery where “helpful suggestions” will be made to consumers based on their presumed age and gender.

And of course, Japan today means the U.S. tomorrow. In fact, other companies are already testing “gender-aware” technology for outdoor billboards and mall signage here in the United States. Intel has partnered with Microsoft in such an endeavor to design the Intel Intelligent Digital Signage Concept.

Joe Jensen, a manager at Intel’s Embedded Computing Division, sums it up like this: “As stores seek more competitive advantages over online retailers, digital signage has become a valuable technology for dispersing targeted and interactive content to shoppers.”

If gender-aware technology proves to be effective, does this mean that gin & tonics will be now offered to older consumers? At the end of a long day at the office, that could be a tantalizing option for businesspeople hitting Grand Central Station to catch the Long Island Railway home.

Or consider this picture: Legions of “Divine” impersonators (see above) descending upon malls or food kiosks, just to test how well the signage and vending machines can determine true age and gender!

Kidding aside, it’s really no surprise that digital technology with its ability to serve highly targeted, relevant content would eventually work its way into billboards and signage, historically the most “mass” of mass communications. Marketers crave statistical results, and they’re naturally going to gravitate to anything that provides those metrics – no matter how imprecise they might be.

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