The future starts now

We look at new tech and talk to the experts to give you the Minority Report W5.

John Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks through an effervescent mall in 2054. Hyper-targeted 3D holographic ads for Bulgari, Lexus and Guinness call to Anderton, hawking their wares to him by name thanks to retinal identification from wall-mounted scanners. The Steven Spielberg film Minority Report – loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick – provides a glimpse into the future of advertising that, at first glance, seems out of this world.
Where contemporary advertising falls short is the limitations of the technologies that exist today and their lack of ubiquity. Our malls aren’t filled with holographic advertisements that know exactly who we are…yet. Given that the scenario was constructed with the help of scientific gurus including Jaron Lanier (attributed with popularizing the term “virtual reality”), who was predominantly responsible for informing the advertising in the film, it’s not that crazy to think it could come to pass.
We’re closer than one might think. Recent innovations in location-based software, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, directional audio and, in particular, augmented reality and gesture control, are being incorporated into advertising and are making Spielberg’s 2002 film increasingly prophetic. Many are still in their infancy, but it’s a priority for media agencies to investigate them, says Gilad Coppersmith, managing director, digital and emerging media, OMD.
“A lot of these technologies are not as well developed as we would like, from an advertising perspective,” says Coppersmith. “But they are really important and we’re putting a lot of effort into working with them.”  
Indeed, in Cannes this year the “technological renaissance,” and how it’s being applied in advertising, was a topic of discussion. One seminar, hosted by Cheil Worldwide and the Barbarian Group, played off the film’s title, dubbed “Majority Report: When the Technology of our Dreams goes Mainstream.” Kate Hyewon Oh, CD of Cheil Worldwide, and Benjamin Palmer, co-founder, CEO of the Barbarian Group, spoke about how the approach to communications needs to change to meet the rapid technological advancement that’s facilitating all sorts of new ways to engage consumers, who are adopting these new techs as fast as they are evolving.
The featured speaker in DDB Worldwide’s “Welcome to the New World” seminar was Kent Demaine, a Hollywood future technology visionary, who’s worked on films like J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, the new Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt and, you guessed it, Minority Report. Augmented reality, which Demaine called a facet of experience design, has been hitting the mainstream of late and is one of the techs being used globally that’s most quickly driving us towards a Spielbergian world of interactive advertising.
Demaine, who is founder and CD of Hollywood-based OOOii.Realtime, said it’s something they’re trying to expand into what he calls mixed reality: a virtual environment that coexists with the physical environment so that they are spacially aligned with each other. Right now AR tech might not be like the holographic projections in the movie, but the effect is, in some ways, similar.
Canada may be a bit behind when it comes to implementing new tech like AR in advertising, but the rate of adoption is beginning to speed up and executions are displaying greater sophistication than those that used glyphs to trigger experiences. Last month, Axe Canada, working with Toronto-based Capital C and Oakville, ON-based Monster Media, took augmented reality on the road, incorporating it into a truck touring various locations between Toronto and Montreal.
The Axe Virtual Hair Action Experience rolling AR execution added a component to raise the interactivity bar: facial recognition. Guys were given the opportunity to get some virtual hair action (as Axe calls it). They were presented with three 30-second scenarios, one of which involved women competing to get their hands in participants’ hair, complete with sound effects. All they had to do was stand in a designated spot, let the AR tech recognize their face, and then a screen was telling them that women’s hands were grasping at their hair.   
Back in November, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation implemented a similar execution using a screen in a storefront window that gave passersby a glimpse of what it might look like if they won the lottery. They could see themselves in one of three scenarios, including skydiving and snowboarding down the side of a mountain, which were incorporated into live video. In that case the trigger was the person’s eyeballs. It’s not quite a retinal scan, but it’s a start.
Halifax-based Ad-Dispatch, a provider of AR content, was brought in to help with the production of the execution, which was developed in collaboration with Halifax-based Volt Media, which has since been acquired by Ad-Dispatch, and Time and Space, also in Halifax. The acquisition has helped Ad-Dispatch on its way to becoming a Canadian leader in AR facilitation. Part and parcel with that is its licensed use of D’Fusion, an AR software platform developed by Paris-based software solutions provider Total Immersion, which powers the AR tech that Ad-Dispatch develops.
“AR allows people to interact, engage and learn more about the product before they make the purchase decision,” says Matt Fegan, director of operations, Ad-Dispatch. “It’s all about the creativity behind the campaign. If you’re clever with it and you engage the consumer and bring them closer for more time spent with the product, it can be a really powerful technology for advertisers.”
In the U.S. there are several brands that have developed product-centric AR experiences, shifting the focus to functionality as opposed to entertainment. Ray-Ban, for example, used the tech in 2008 to create a virtual mirror, where people could try on sunglasses from the comfort of their own home. Culver City, CA-based interactive marketing agency Zugara did something similar for its online retail clients, using AR to create virtual dressing rooms, which allow potential customers to see how clothes fit without having to visit the store. All they need is a computer and a webcam and they’re off to the races.  
As intuitively fictional as facial recognition might seem, another Minority Report tech that seems equally as unlikely today is a projected interface using gesture control. (Remember those powergloves from the days of the original Nintendo console?) There’s no way we could’ve come that far, right? Guess again. Using D’Fusion, Fegan says that the next big thing they’re working on is applying gesture control to AR applications. No powergloves necessary.
They have yet to execute anything in Canada, but Total Immersion has already got the ball rolling with an online AR feature using the tech they developed for the film Iron Man 2. It ultimately enables users to sport Iron Man’s mask, but what sets it apart from similar AR experiences is that pointing in different directions allows the user to interact with the webpage.
Of course there’s also Microsoft Kinect, gesture-controlled gaming without the need for any kind of remote. That’s not really AR, but it sure is cool. None of it is projected, but given strides in the last few years with 3D holographic projection technologies, like Musion Eyeliner’s HD 3D holographic video projection system, it’s not a far stretch to imagine that aspect being incorporated into entertainment and advertising, along with AR and gesture control, in the near future. 
Until Canada gets its first taste of gesture-controlled AR, brands have been finding other ways of incorporating the tech into ad executions. Telus, for example, launched a campaign this month, working with Taxi and Media Experts, promoting its fall lineup of phones and extolling the virtues of living a smarter smartphone life. It includes 9′ x 46′ gesture-controlled digital screen installations in high-traffic storefronts in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Facilitated by The Media Merchants, passersby can interact with Telus’s newest critter, a dolphin, by jumping or moving side to side. After a series of motion loops, the telco’s phone lineup appears and the user can move left or right to select a specific handset.
“The new devices that we are launching are very impressive and can do just about anything,” says George Huovinen, supervisor, account planning, Media Experts. “It’s very difficult to communicate that via a static execution, so we searched for ways to bring the products to life and show consumers their capabilities rather than just tell them. This execution is definitely upgrading your overall experience with the brand and the newly launched critter.” 
Hyper-targeting, to the extreme, is another characteristic of the ads in Minority Report. Well, that’s starting to happen now too. Back in October, Vancouver-based Tava Touchpoints partnered with Toronto-based Planet-Tek Systems to release smart, interactive digital touch screens in retail and hospitality environments. They use sensors and biometric face-readers, developed by Markham, ON-based CognoVision, to determine things like how long consumers view content, audience numbers by time of day and gender. Yes, gender.
In London, England, Castrol put up a billboard that used roadside cameras and Britain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to tell approaching motorists what type of oil was right for their car. Developed by Ogilvy Advertising, with media space and technology handled by Clear Channel Outdoor’s Create division, Castrol’s “Right Oil, Right Car” campaign used information like the make, year, engine size and model-type of the car. It was pulled after a few days amidst privacy concerns.
Even scarier, perhaps, are innovations like a billboard tech recently developed by Japan electronics company NEC, which uses built-in cameras to hyper-target ads to people as they walk past.
An internal computer uses facial recognition software to determine a person’s gender and age to within 10 years and then offers them advertising for products relevant to their demographic. Dubbed the Next Generational Digital Signage Solution,
the billboard aims to allow better, more accurate campaigns in public venues like airports or shopping malls. It’s currently being tested in major shopping centres in Japan and is set to be rolled out in the U.S. later this year.
Again, all this tech is in its infancy, but once harnessed properly, it will certainly provide brands with new opportunities, and perhaps some dilemmas.
The future, says Coppersmith, will involve a borderless exchange of data between consumers, between platforms and between a platform and a consumer.
“It’s going to allow brands a more human experience with the consumer,” says Coppersmith. “For those brands that are prepared to really go in and test and invest in these, it’s going to give them a significant competitive advantage.”
Achieving that, he says, is a matter of figuring out how to marry all these technologies into a proper experience, not focusing on one or two of them at the expense of everything else.
On the dilemma front, expect more privacy concerns to arise as boundaries get pushed.
Ad-Dispatch – and others – are working on extending AR to the mobile space, and has a video case study on its website showing how it looks in its early stages.
All of this is resulting in a shift to a new media planning approach that delivers synchronous messages, experiences and conversations across the whole ecosystem.
“We’re starting to create very portable end experiences,” says Coppersmith. “They’re brand experiences that live and connect seamlessly across multiple screens. And, they are brand experiences that bridge the virtual and real worlds.”
The future, it would seem, has arrived.