The Future is Watching: The Scariest Marketing Ploy I’ve Ever Seen

Some of you know that I’m in marketing, and it’s my job to figure out how to put the right products in front of the right consumers in the right place and at the right time.  Lining all this up is critical, because it’s a waste of time, effort and marketing dollars to try and hook a potential customer when they’re not in he mood to interact with your offerings.

These days, there are lots of tools to whittle down the audience you’re targeting and hone in on people who are good candidates for your product based on the websites they visit, what they like on Facebook, the times of day they watch TV, etc., etc.  While some of these methods of targeting get close to invading someone’s privacy, none are nearly as scary as what this recently approved Microsoft patent proposes.

The website Digital Trends pulled the most telling paragraph from the patent application:  

“a computer-implemented method to determine emotional states of users that receive advertisements on client devices, the method comprising: monitoring a user’s online activity during a time period; processing the online activity to identify a tone associated with content that the user interacted with during the time period; receiving an indication of the user’s reaction to the content; and assigning an emotional state to the user based on the tone of the content and the indication of the user’s reaction to the content.”

According to Digital Trends, it looks like your XBOX Kinect sensor, the little camera that goes on top of your TV and allows you to use your whole body to play games without a controller, will be watching you every time you sit down in front of your XBOX.  Kinect will study your body language.  It will look for subtle cues as to your mood.  Then it will use this information to serve up advertising matched to what it sees.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize where this could lead.  You’re watching Netflix on XBOX and hit pause.  Kinect knows what time it is, knows you’ve been in front of the TV for an hour without eating, and decides you’re probably hungry.  So a  “click to order” Pizza Hut ad comes up.  Or perhaps you’re drinking a Diet Mt. Dew (let’s be honest, the worlds greatest soda) and Kinect reads the label and serves up an ad for a Pepsi rewards program.  Or it listens to you bitching (there’s a microphone, you know) about your unreliable car, and starts serving up NAPA ads or a pitch to by a reliable Subaru.  Or it hears you mention “bombs” and “airplanes” and sends your name to Homeland Security.  The fun is almost endless.

While there might be an upside to this – the system might see you grimace at a Coors Light ad and realize you’re a person of high taste – these are far outweighed by the obvious privacy issues.  Also, looking over the patent, it’s pretty clear that this idea extends beyond the XBOX and Kinect.  The language is very general about “computer systems,” and “online behaviors” to determine your mood and the context in which you are using that device, so expect this to impact the entire Microsoft universe, including your computer, your web browser and that little camera on your computer that’s watching you as you read this.  Heck, maybe they’ll even do it as you surf on your iPhone – it too has a camera.

You know how you boil a live frog?  You place it in a pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat.  The little sucker won’t sense that he’s in trouble until the water is roiling and his legs are metamorphosing into tender treats.  This patent looks like that first little bubble that wiggles its way to the surface just before you get a full-on boil going. First it was tracking cookies, then it was Facebook using everything you tell it about yourself to target you with ads, then it was cameras everywhere, and now it is this – everything is coming together.  And there seems like there’s no stopping it, because there’s money to be made.

I think it’s time to get sized for a tinfoil hat.

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Categories: Off Topic

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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27 Comments on “The Future is Watching: The Scariest Marketing Ploy I’ve Ever Seen”

  1. June 12, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    What’s next targeting users when they’re drunk or high? I realize that young people have a much lower privacy threshold than old farts like myself, but this kind of stuff is just so Orwellian. We really need to step back and ask whether this is a place we really want to go.

    • June 12, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Agreed. It will seem perfectly normal to kids that the TV is watching them. They might even see it as a good thing – it knows what they want and serves it up. Problem is they don’t understand how it can 9and will) be used against them.

  2. June 12, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    So, who has the lucky job of going through all the horrifying pictures of things gamers do in front of their televisions?

    • June 12, 2012 at 11:29 am #

      I dunno, but I dread the day I have to ask my son why the XBOX keeps serving up all those ads for…well, I dunno what they’ll be fore, but it’ll be awkward!

  3. June 12, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    That Kinect is a crazy piece of technology. We’re using it for certain clients in unconventional ways right now. Not at liberty to say how. Though, not in the ways you mention above.

    • June 12, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      It’s a neat tech peice, but I always feel creepy when it’s on, and now I know why. I keep mine unplugged when its not in use.

  4. June 12, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Why would you boil a live frog?!?

    That whole concept reminds me of the Futurama episode where Fry receives an advertisement for underwear in his dreams.

    • June 12, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      That’s coming John…mark my words!

  5. splat8391
    June 12, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Interesting, in a Minority Report way, but my gut feeling is that this gadget will get a lot more wrong than it’ll get right. I’d guess that less than half (a LOT less) of the contextual ads I’m served now are for products/services that I’d actually want – and that’s after I’ve entered mostly unambiguous text. The theory makes a lot of sense, but in practice this looks a lot more like miss than hit. I’ll be in the extremely late adopter category at best on this.

    Oh, and: Beer.

    • June 12, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Yes, but Skynet is learning at a geometric rate…

      • June 12, 2012 at 11:34 am #

        And beer.

        • splat8391
          June 12, 2012 at 11:55 am #

          Good, we agree.

        • June 12, 2012 at 11:59 am #

          Funny thing is that I almost ended the article with “Oh – and beer!” as a way of acknowledging that I’m waaay off topic with this one.

        • splat8391
          June 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

          [contemplates “great minds” response]
          [thinks “too cliche”]
          [realizes I’m nothing if not cliche]
          Great minds!

        • June 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

          Wow – now the Internet is reading YOUR THOUGHTS!

          That happened more quickly than I imagined it would…

    • June 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      That may be, but they’ll still be watching you–make sure your undies are clean when you’re playing Xbox.

  6. June 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Yep, they’ll find some way to push this as an easy pill to swallow. Plus, the forum for this technology is a video game – presumably used mostly by children. The current, highly effective marketing toward children is why I don’t plan on letting my kid watch standard television. Plus, the Japanese are even crazier than Bill Gates, so my Wii has probably been watching me for years now…

    • June 12, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      I’m sure they’ll make XBOX Live free if you use the “ad supported” version or something.

      The upside to standard television is that it’s not as closely monitored like Netflix usage, or Apple TV, or web surfing, etc. is. Plus, how the hell are you going to get anything done without plugging your kid into a TV?!!

  7. June 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Haha, oh man… What a tangled web we weave.

    • June 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      When first we meet our dear TV….

  8. June 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I hope they do better than the late “Clippy” on MS Word.

    • June 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      You’re right, what am I worried about? The damn thing will probably knock on the screen. *klink*kilnk*

      • June 12, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

        “It looks like you’re about to have a beer…”

  9. NicM
    June 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    It would have been interesting to see what it came up with for my old cat who liked to smoke pot. Fancy Feast and NatGeo commercials?

    • June 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Naw, the new Tuna Cheetos!

  10. Diss Content
    June 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    The marketing trend I’ve noticed with beer is clustering around their containers in some sort of offering to the gods of misaligned, causal relationships. From flat-top and punch-top cans, I can only wonder what marvel will be next.

    Apparently next is here and it’s in the shape of Chaka’s Belgian Style Ale in a commemorative aluminum, with a continuous thread, twist off, resealable cap, over a conical tapered top can. This can also puts a long overdue end to the elitist view that such containers are the sole domain of brake fluids from the 1960’s. I’m talking about the manly, man, he-man DOT 3 stuff that would dissolve paint and cause temporary blindness. Sure it had some drawbacks along with being a mild carcinogen but it sure quenched a thirst.

    Now every man can turn that cap 2.725 complete rotations and drink deep. No more having to worry about finishing an entire pint in a single sitting either, since you are able to spin that cap back on and that’s just fine. As long as you’re a wuss and can’t drink an entire pint that is.

    Well ‘Mr. Madison Avenue Marketing Beer In Arcane Industrial Fluid Containers’ guy, I’m not in your demographic of easily swayed with a herd mentality and an odd sense of relevance. No sir, you can watch me all you want with gaming consoles and Faceplant social media portals, because that’s not where I make my beer purchasing decisions. That’s not to say I’m opposed to saturation marketing from the Swedish Bikini Team or Hooters. They beat the hell out of those Dulcolax and disposable catheter commercials; admittedly the latter actually drives me to drink.

    • June 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

      There does seem to be an inordinate amount of attention being paid to the containers vice the contents of late. But then, that’s the modern American way isn’t it? (Also, a pint–or maybe two–seems just about right to me.)

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