Image: 20th Century Fox
Sophisticated, digitized and personalized advertising is a classic sci-fi trope—Minority Report's mall scene, where video images of models and adverts address Anderton by name, is one of the most-cited examples—that's usually deployed as a satirical foretelling of consumerist society run amok. And of course, it's about to become 100% real.
Researchers are currently experimenting with a grip of new high-tech ways to force their product pitches into your eyeballs. Using Kinect cameras, giant OLED and LED screens, and new software, marketing firms could soon get their ads to literally follow you around the mall. See, the screens are getting cheap enough to print in giant sheets, and you can cover just about anything with them. Now, with interactivity tech ramping up too, moving ads are just around the corner. Which would be a queasy (if predictable) proposition enough—if these obnoxious moving ads weren't threatened to be displaced by ads that hover, at all times, directly in front of your eyeballs.
New Scientist just profiled the scientists at the Technical University of Berlin, one of the leading research departments seeking to advance new advert technology. They've come up with two new applications that aim to grab your attention in two completely different and equally invasive ways:
Screenfinity ... generates content for large, long screens that follows the viewer as they walk along beside it. The system monitors passers-by with 10 Kinect cameras placed along the length of a screen. As a person approaches, text or pictures pop up and slide along in sync with their walking. If someone moves further away, the text gets bigger; closer, and it gets smaller, so it is equally legible all the time.
StrikeAPose ... lets a person in the street perform a unique gesture to take control of anything from a bus-shelter advert screen to a large, Times-Square-style video wall.
The researchers aren't specifically developing the technology just for advertisers—that's just how they imagine early adoption of the tech to take place. They also hope that artists, street performers, and public institutions will take advantage of the platforms to beautify and make spaces interactive in creative ways, too. Nonetheless, advertisers have the budgets and the clout—if this goes mainstream, we'll see moving Microsoft ads become ubiquitous long before street art.
And yet, it's possible that this brand of advertising that promises to haunt us like techno-ghosts through the halls of commerce might actually be DOA. If augmented reality devices like the Google Glasses take off, users will not only be able to tune them out—there will be far better, cheaper ways to beam ads into people's brains. The following is a parody, sure, and the deployment won't be so inelegant—but this isn't that far off, really.
So, while the tech for either isn't ready for the prime time quite yet, there are actually two competing models for how tomorrow's advertisers will burrow product pitches into your brain. Forget billboards, TV spots, or internet pop-ups—ignorable trifles all. In the future, there will be no such escape.