A few years ago, I had coffee with Nick Langeveld, who left Nielsen to run business development for an interesting company called Affectiva. He was telling me how the company, an MIT labs spin-off, was going to make measurement in a new direction by measuring people’s facial expressions.

Like Intel, who is going to start shipping set top boxes that know who is watching television, Affectiva is using the ability to watch consumers through their webcams as they consume video, and measure the emotions in real-time.

Now, marketers could see the exact moment when they captured surprise, delight, or revulsion in a consumer—and scale that effort to anyone with a webcam, who opted into their panel. This sounded great, but I wondered if and when large marketers would adopt such technology.

The question of adoption was answered early this year, when the company announced that both Unilever and Coca Cola would use the technology to measure all of their marketing efforts this year. In the consumer products wars, perhaps tweaking your video assets to get an extra smile or “wow moment” will give Coke what it needs to pick up market share from Pepsi. Even if that is not the case, the measurement will give their agency creative a very real—and real-time—indication of how impactful their content is.

I think this is a great sign.

The relentless automation of digital media seems to have taken a lot of emphasis off the creative. Now that digital marketers can buy audiences so precisely, delivering the right message doesn’t seem to matter as much. For agency people like R/GA's Michael Lowenstern, who recently spoke at Digiday Agency Summit on this topic, the right equation is right message plus right creative equals more performance and lower costs. His recent Verizon campaign used hundreds of individual banner creatives, matched to audiences, and raised sales of FiOS 187%. That’s sales increase—not an increase in campaign performance.

Creative matters

When talking about higher funnel branding activities using rich media and video, creative matters even more. Building brands takes means connecting emotionally with consumers, so it would seem like technologies like Affectiva’s, which utilise “big data” approaches to drive branding, all the more relevant for this day and age. Research presented by The Intelligence Group’s Allison Arling-Giorgi at the recent 4As conference showed that Generation Y consumers find humor the most effective form of advertising, so Unilever leveraging technology to squeeze one more smile out of a 30-second spot starts to make a lot of sense. 

In the case of Intel, adding a “webcam” to a set top box sounds really scary from a privacy perspective, but starts to make a lot of sense when you think about the migration of television ad dollars to display.

Theoretically, the shifting dollars reflect a desire on the advertisers’ part to achieve more granular targeting, and put the right ads in front of the right people at scale. The digital display channel offers lots of targeting, but the low-quality inventory, commoditized and bland creative units, and tremendous amount of fraud have kept a lot of TV money on the sidelines.

In 2009, Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker estimated the gap between where people spend their time (increasingly online) and where advertisers spend their money (TV) represented a $50 billion global opportunity. While that has shrunk considerably, the gap is still measured in the tens of billions, despite the enormity of Google, and the embrace of ubiquitous social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Connected set top boxes may be biggest online advertising disruptor

Despite being a mass reach vehicle today, plans like Intel’s threaten to disrupt online advertising in a far more fundamental way than digital has been impacting traditional ads. Connected set top boxes are connected to households—the composition of which are easy to access, both from a demographic and financial perspective. They also tend to deliver a much more engaging video experience for the brand advertiser than ignored “pre-roll” inside a tiny 300x250 pixel video player.

Now, add the element of being able to actually see who is on the couch watching—and tailor ad messaging to those viewers, based on their age, and contextual relevance of the content they are consuming. That’s powerful in a way that digital cannot ever become, despite the rise of “social TV” watchers who tweet during “appointment viewing” shows like The Walking Dead.

Delivering ads to TVs, depending on who is watching them? That’s something to really watch out for. 

Chris O'Hara

Published 8 April, 2013 by Chris O'Hara

Chris O'Hara leads global marketing at data management platform Krux, a Salesforce company, and is a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (5)

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

Some years ago my teams were working with BSkyB on numerous viewer engagement projects including the redesign of Sky+ and how we could better understand what Sky's 10m+ subscribers were watching.

I remember advising the execs on a pilot scheme to build Sky's own version of the BARB viewing figures, but one of the key sticking points is what would motivate a majority of subscribers (rather than the typically small sample sizes in BARB) to opt in and share their private info.

This 'idea' is plagued by the same down-to-earth reality check. Unless advertisers are offered a comprehensive targeting opportunity, there's little for them to get excited by. Plus any engagement that could be built would need incentivised and will be limited to specific demographic groups (i.e. very young people). Advertisers will want scale whereas TV providers will be hampered by privacy and opt-in restrictions.

The best way of implementing such a proposition would be within an interactive programming package (such as 'The Voice'), where viewers agree to open up their lives in a reality-type setting where they gain a significant advantage for doing so.

Forget the talk of their being a $50bn opportunity, this is a 'niche' play that will be led by programme makers not technology providers.

over 5 years ago



Not sure if this is gonna work, it reminds me the effort of using MRI to do the same some years before.

I guess the best way to do it in the near future is to activate some app using the camera of smartphone owned by people who agree to participate in the research programme.

over 5 years ago

Chris O'Hara

Chris O'Hara, Head of Global Marketing, Krux at Salesforce

Just to clarify: The Affectiva technology uses an opt-in panel, and they are currently doing measurement, noit targeting.

On the Intel concept, I agree that getting a huge bulk of consumers opted into that type of tracking will be difficult, if not impossible.

I like Steve's comment about The Voice. The technology does suggest some really fascinating ideas for a more interactive viewing/participation experience.

over 5 years ago


David Beard

Also agree that Steve D's take is sensible, viz:

>> viewers agree to open up their lives in a reality-type
>> setting where they gain a significant advantage for doing so.

And, that sounds a bit like old fashioned audience panels, albeit with some new wizardry, to me.

Everything old is new again?!

-= David

over 5 years ago

Gemma Holloway

Gemma Holloway, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

This sounds like some pretty impressive stuff! Think of what it would mean for segmentation and targeting!

With regards to the opt-in ratio though, I think they will need to be careful how they introduce the technology. I reckon you could end up with a very low opt-in rate because of the 'Big Brother' feel of the technology.

over 5 years ago

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