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Targeted Advertising and the Fine Line between Genius and Creepy

By Hannah Hill on Wed, Jan 09, 2013 @ 11:04 AM |


We have all been exposed to targeted advertising, whether we knew it or not.  Targeted advertising is advertising strategically placed to attract consumer attention based on characteristics like gender, age and marital status, among others, and it isn’t a new trick. To maximize dollars advertisers have always sought targeting metrics and methods that prove effective. Newspaper advertisers use zoning which allows advertisers to get in front of consumers in specific geographic regions. Television and radio use ratings and listener/view demographics. Online advertisers use a variety of metrics in an effort to get ads to the right people. Advances in technology have enabled advertisers and marketers to increase the effectiveness of their advertising by giving them the capability to put the right ads in front of Verizon's new approach to targeting advertisingthe right people at the right time. The benefits of targeted advertising are many; however, depending on your view Verizon may be on the brink of taking it too far.

Verizon has submitted a patent that, if granted, will take targeted advertising to new heights. Acrophobia anyone? Verizon’s patent coined "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User" describes their interactive ad proposal.

Here’s the legalese for those so inclined to read it:

A method comprising: presenting, by a media content presentation system, a media content program comprising an advertisement break; detecting, by the media content presentation system, an ambient action performed by a user during the presentation of the media content program and within a detection zone associated with the media content presentation system; selecting, by the media content presentation system, an advertisement associated with the detected ambient action; and presenting, by the media content presentation system, the selected advertisement during the advertisement break.

Now here it is in plain English for the rest of us:

Verizon, aka Big Brother, will be watching you. Yes, you. As you sit in front of the television in the comfort of your own home, a camera-like device will be able to determine if you are “eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity,” so basically, Verizon will know what you are up to at all hours of the day.

Verizon plans to use the information to deliver more relevant ads to your TV, smartphone and/or tablet. For example, if the sensor "detects that a couple is arguing/fighting with each other," Verizon "may select an advertisement associated [with] marriage/relationship counseling." Additionally, if the sensor detects a can of beer in close proximity to the individual, then a commercial for that particular brand of beer may be selected. The sensor will even go so far as to detect the mood of the user. So now, not only will you have to put on a happy face for your family and friends when you are having one of those days, but you will have to convince Verizon’s sensor you don’t need to see depression-related advertisements.

Verizon isn’t the only company taking advantage of targeted advertising. Facebook uses the content found in your profile to generate ads designed to appeal to your gender, age,Firestone uses targeted advertising interests, etc. Similarly, Google skims your emails and presents ads based on the content of the emails you send and receive. Don’t believe me? I recently received an email from my dad reminding me to get new tires before winter; now I’m being targeted by Firestone to buy new snow tires. Lucky me.

What are your thoughts on Verizon’s latest approach to targeted advertising? Tell us in the comments section below. Download our latest research report ‘Proven Methods for Reaching Affluent and Educated Consumers’ to learn how you can most effectively target this highly sought after demographic.

Download Proven Methods for Reaching Affluent and Educated Consumers

Hannah Hill is a marketing specialist at Mediaspace Solutions. Her marketing experience includes writing, social media and event management. You can connect with Hannah on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+.

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