The kingdom of heaven

In the past, if you wanted to advertise your wares to the mass market your choices were somewhat limited. There were magazines that you could advertise in, radio or television commercials that you could broadcast, or more recently, even messages that you could blast over the internet.

But while all these approaches were somewhat successful, advertisers and the agencies that worked for them were never entirely confident that their messages were being read by the audience most likely to purchase the products or services advertised.

So one day, a particularly bright group of engineers decided to put an end to all that uncertainty. They did it by developing a rather clever digital billboard for a local shopping mall. The billboard in question was capable of capturing the images of those individuals that passed by it, then processing them to identify their age group and gender, after which it would display an individually tailored advertisement from a database.

It was a terrific idea and the marketing men at the advertising agency loved it. But they wondered, what else could the clever engineering team come up with to enhance the technology further? It didn’t take the engineers long before they came up with an answer. They realised that if they could access the GPS technology inside a user’s mobile phone, they could then tweak the advertisement delivery system to make the messages relevant to a user’s location in the mall.

The advertisers were over the moon. Not only could they now visually identify their target audience, they could then direct them to any nearby store that might be able to provide them with the goods or services that they might be in the mood to purchase.

The general public – and more specifically, the younger generation – were particularly thrilled by the idea. Many found the concept tremendously useful during their shopping expeditions. But several leading liberal privacy groups, I’m afraid to say, were less than enamoured with the new system.

One particularly vocal bunch complained vehemently that taking pictures of individuals and using their GPS data was not only intrusive, but an attack on their civil liberties. Another went so far as citing the fact that since one religious group actually believed that capturing their images effectively removed their souls from their bodies, that the technology would prevent them from entering the kingdom of heaven.

Needless to say, the liberal lobby finally won over against the needs of the advertising men and, as a consequence, the terrific new advertisement delivery technology was hauled out of the shopping mall.

But the advertisers haven’t given up. And neither have the engineers. They are now working on an even smarter, somewhat less intrusive system with which to deliver their messages on the billboards and, from what I’ve heard, it won’t be long before their new system is back in the mall.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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