Is Facial Tracking Acceptable When You Target Celebrities?

Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in Advertising, DOOH, Interactive

I picked up this NPR piece over the weekend which showcases NEC’s facial recognition software for high-end retail stores. The article speaks of a retail managers faux pas in failing to spot a known celebrity from the sitcom, “The Office.” Of course, with NEC’s facial tracking software, such a blunder would never have occurred as the software would have alerted staff immediately that a VIP had entered the establishment. The debate over the privacy issues surrounding facial recognition has dragged-on for years. However, this–in my opinion–is a much more legitimate use case for the technology than the broad-use of facial recognition software in the digital signage space. Here are my reasons why.

  1. Claiming privacy violation by facial targeting celebrities is like claiming libel on a celebrity. It’s much more difficult. They’re lives are already an open book and much is already known about them. Targeting them
  2. It’s less expensive. Think of the database you would need to use facial recognition targeting a 50 different demographics on a single display, not to mention the computing memory to conjure-up an ad immediately based on what the target demographic needed. Keeping the target audience smaller, decreases the cost of implementation significantly.
  3. It’s more niche, more targeted. Similar to #2 above, keeping the target niche in focus, it is easier to deliver and have an effective strategy. With a broad-reaching approach, we tend to attempt to be “all things to all people” and the message gets a bit watered-down.
  4. People love celebrities. For some reason, people love to admire the so-called elite of society. We do it on our newsstands, at the grocery checkout aisle and on shows like E! and Entertainment Tonight. Targeting celebs is something the public would be fine with.

It could be an issue if a celebrity wanted to get litigious, but there are a number of ways to avoid such a confrontation, especially if it plays well with the overall strategy. The biggest flaw to this strategy is outlined explicitly by the boutique fashion store owner showcased in the NPR article:

“I like to think that we treat all our customers like VIPs…”

Rightfully so. Getting too focused on a single, small customer niche could alienate the rest (and largest portion) of the company’s sales. If you can play the game without making it “zero sum,” then it could be worth it. Otherwise, it’s probably best just to stick to traditional methods of targeting customers at retail.

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