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Surprising Science

Advertisers Now Know Exactly What You Want

In the 2002 film Minority Report, audiences were shocked by scenes in which public advertisements could scan star Tom Cruise’s profile and pitch him ad content based on his tastes. This was pure Hollywood of course, but even avowed sci-fi geeks wondered if it was a signal of a new invasive age in advertising.

The Nielsen media family is widely considered a relic from a bygone era of billboards and TV spots, but the company is still at the forefront of compiling ad metrics. Their most prized tool is Ad*Views, a software program that provides current and historical metrics on 17 different media types in over 200 markets.

Nielsen has partnered with Sony Computer Entertainment in developing a measurement system to track data from advertising embedded in video games. Though still a nascent market, both Google and Microsoft have started ventures to help them compile gaming ad metrics. Last year, Nielsen announced Mobile MRI, a joint-venture with Mediamark Research and Intelligence, to track users by detailed behavioral, psychographic, demographic, and product information.

And Nielsen is not the only company to have latched on to your everyday activities. While video games certainly offer a host of possibilities, social networks could be on their way to become one giant petri dish of metrics. Roughly 80 million Americans visit a social networking site once a month and the most popular of those sites, Facebook, offers demographic and profile information on users who click on site ads making for potentially a massive pool of advertising information.

It’s not just new media either. A group of traditional billboard advertisers headed by Clear Channel have adopted a new system in which cameras are used to track the duration viewers look at outdoor advertisements. Around the corner is even a technology that will allow advertisements to scan the Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones of passersby. With that prospect, the reality signaled in Minority Report might not be that far off.


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