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Is Emotional Relevance the Future of Advertising?

3rd Dec 2015


Az Ahmed, Senior Marketing Consultant at SmartFocus


I read an article recently that talked about technology featuring in the new Minority Report TV show. For the 2002 film of the same name, the film makers asked John Underkoffler at MIT to consult on the futuristic technology they would use in their movie. From drones, to driverless cars, to the retina scan recognition software that prompted contextualised ads in a shopping mall, a surprising amount of what was predicted has come to pass. Ok, maybe our eyes aren’t scanned every time we go shopping, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

For the new TV show, they went back to MIT and enlisted John’s help again, and once more a lot of technology in the new show looks like it could be with us in the near future. One of the predicted technological advances in particular looks like it could become very relevant to retailers – namely emotionally relevant advertising. This is advertising that measures a person’s heart rate and analyses micro facial expressions to offer products based on their mood.


Measuring heart rate can be done today with many wearables measuring a person’s heart rate for fitness based apps, like the Apple Watch. Also the technology is being developed at the moment to measure changes in micro facial expressions. Combine the two and you would potentially be able to recognise how a person is feeling at the precise moment they are scanned and offer them relevant adverts.

If this sort of thing does become a reality, there is a huge amount of work that will need to be done, alongside getting the tech right. For example data privacy. Many people are already concerned about the erosion of their privacy and their personal data being abused. Companies would therefore have to get consumer approval before being scanned in return for personalised offers and discounts. However if bridges like that can be crossed, emotionally relevant advertising could become a viable revenue stream for businesses.

Before we get too excited we need to ask ourselves whether people actually want to be scanned, and if they are feeling sad for example, do they actually want a product advertised to them that could perk them up? Indeed if they are feeling anxious, do they want an ad that offers them a relaxing and upbeat film they can download to their Apple TV?

Perhaps it’s more likely for emotional relevance to become commonplace if it is built into the products we already use every day. For example if our phone tracked our mood and knew if we were angry, maybe it could suggest we go for a run? Or our desk could track if we were sitting still for too long and suggest that we have a quick walk around. Maybe that sort of thing could work and even become integrated into the Internet of Things and be used by our fridges, microwaves and home heating systems.

Emotionally relevant ads might be an easier sell than facial recognition ads which contextualise content based on an individual by scanning their face when they enter a physical space. This is currently being trialled in shopping centres, to mixed results. Even Facebook uses facial recognition technology to scan pictures and suggest people to tag in them. Monitoring heart rate and micro expressions without scanning the full face could make the privacy concern a bit easier to swallow. Or it could just be something inevitable that we all accept in return for a personalised offer or a better shopping experience in the future. Time will tell.

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Az Ahmed, Senior Marketing Consultant at SmartFocus

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