12 March 2012

UAE advertising making Science Fiction a Fact...

Times Square at the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue in New York City. Customised advertising is gathering pace and can be used by companies that want to promote their products or provide information to customers. Yana Paskova / AFP

In the sci-fi film Minority Report, Tom Cruise's character is bombarded by tailor-made adverts beamed from digital screens that recognise passers-by.

The 2002 blockbuster movie, which envisages how the world will look in 2054, may be a work of fiction, but customised advertising is already becoming a reality - and some of the technology is in use in the UAE.
Advanced Interactive Media Solutions(Aims) in Dubai sells a system that can record how many people look at a digital advert and for how long, in addition to their age and gender.
"This is not something which we are talking about in the future. This is something we are doing right now," says Rehan Afridi, the business development manager at Aims.
Estimates vary on just how big the global digital "place-based" advertising industry is. But estimates put it anywhere from US$2.1 billion (Dh7.71bn) to $5bn.
While this market is not officially tracked in the Emirates, some small businesses specialising in the technology say there is an surge in interest in digital advertising signs. And many are profiting from the trend.
For The Integrated Systems (Tis) company, which has about 35 employees in the UAE, digital sign sales increased by about 50 per cent last year, and it expects the same rise this year.
Tis receives daily enquiries from organisations wanting to know more.
"Most of them are still not aware what the benefits are that they will get from such a technology," says Mohamed Adel, the sales manager at Tis. "They include the ability to upload adverts immediately, which can be streamed to multiple locations."
The company signed a contract worth more than Dh1 million last year to provide a digital marketing agency based in Dubai with a system of 300 screens.
"They made a revenue-sharing agreement with different locations at hospitals, government buildings [and an] airport," says Mr Adel.
"[At a hospital], which has 1,000 visitors per day, that means 30,000 visitors per month. The companies … are interested to [reach] these viewers, especially if these people are sitting waiting for their appointments. They have nothing to do, only watch the screen."
Digital advertising can be used by any company that wants to promote its products or provide information to customers, including banks, car showrooms and even hotels.
"Recently we got a very big project in Abu Dhabi. It's basically one of the best hotels in Abu Dhabi," says Mr Afridi.
"They are going to use [about] 40 screens in the hotel. Some are for the meeting rooms. Some are for people who are coming to the hotel to find out what is happening."
If used correctly, digital signs can deliver bigger profits, says Matthew Ranson, the brand director at Ranson, a niche brand strategy consultancy based in Dubai.
But companies should be careful about how they use the technology.
"In order to meet the requirements of government and also the requirements of humanity to not be inundated with offensive advertising," says Mr Ranson, "there is a huge emphasis on companies, and it's going to be mainly retailers, to design the appropriate system.
"Don't just dive into this head first."
Companies should think about their target market and what they are trying to say. If they do that and build an appropriate system, there is a place for digital sign advertising.
Dubai Mall uses the technology well, says Mr Ranson.
"You can go in, look for your shop, press it and it comes up on a screen and shows you where to go, [it's] fantastic."
But he fears one day all malls could be like the one in Minority Report. And he may be right.
The Japanese company NEC is in the process of developing billboards that will be able to recognise passers-by, call them by name and display tailor-made adverts. So far they can recognise age and gender and deliver demographically suitable adverts, but they cannot yet identify individuals.
IBM is also working on a system whereby billboards will be able to deliver customised adverts to people wearing identity tags.
"They will [say something like], 'Hi Matthew, how are you today? You bought a latte the last 19 times you came in, how about our new mocha?'" says Mr Ranson.
Unsurprisingly, digital advertisement sign companies welcome the prospect.
"When someone says 'hi' to you, you feel better, so if the screen has this thing where it understands your presence and starts speaking to you … it is definitely a very good thing," says Mr Afridi.
But not everyone agrees.
"I can't think of a worse world to live in," says Mr Ranson.

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