I’ve discussed before the increasing use of facial-recognition technology, especially in advertising in “digital signage.” Most people have heard of the term connected with billboards or other screens that have cameras (and facial-recognition technology) to watch people watching ads in order to improve their marketing. The digital signs log data such as gender, approximate age and how long someone looks at an advertisement. As identification technology becomes cheaper and more prevalent, it could easily unmask people and track their movements. Those who were previously part of the unnamed crowd could be singled out for identification through these digital advertisements.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports on a different type of tracking of how people respond to ads — through eye-tracking. (Slate did a story about eye-tracking technology a few months ago; last year, BusinessWeek discussed stores using camera-security systems to track consumers’ movements for marketing purposes.) The Journal reports:
Consumer-products companies are turning to new technology to overcome the biggest obstacle to learning what shoppers really think: what the shoppers say.
It turns out consumers aren’t a very reliable source of information about their own preferences. Academic research has shown focus-group subjects try to please their testers and overestimate their interest in products, making it hard to get a read on what works. But getting testing right is crucial for consumer-products companies because they ship high volumes and lack direct contact with shoppers.
To find out what really draws their test shoppers’ attention, companies like Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever PLC, and Kimberly-Clark Corp. are combining three-dimensional computer simulations of product designs and store layouts with eye-tracking technology. […]
Kimberly-Clark’s researchers used computer screens outfitted with retina-tracking cameras when testing the newest packaging for its Viva paper towels in 2009, says Kim Greenwood, senior manager in the company’s Virtual Reality Group. Their goal was to find which designs got noticed in the first 10 seconds a shopper looked at a shelf—a crucial window when products are recognized and placed in the shopping cart. They also wanted to know if the preferences held up on different count packages, from single rolls to multipacks.