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Innovation Updated: 21 Aug 2017

Technology used in advertising runs a risk of becoming seen as spam

Tools such as ‘big data’and augmented reality offer new possibilities for marketing and e-commerce, although their impact is as yet relatively unknown

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“Dispense with a horse”, suggested the first advertisement for cars in history in 1898. What was proclaimed in a slogan between the pages of Scientific American over a century ago has today become a 3D interactive virtual image that looks almost real. Last week in Madrid IBM presented a pilot virtual showroom whose technology allows customers to interact with computerized models of the vehicle by means of gestures and to customize it to their liking. Systems like this open up new possibilities for consumers, but in some cases there is a need to study the effect they may have on the users.

Thanks to a controller that recognizes gestures in much the same way as Kinect; a computer screen, the company's system reproduces the sensation of being in a car dealership, complete with everything including the purring of the engine. The aim is to reduce space in car showrooms by offering each model of the vehicle without the need to have it physically in stock. However its creators are not blind to its potential as an advertising tool in the street and shopping centers, and the fact is that these new forms of marketing can play a role that goes far beyond traditional channels when seeking to impact the consumer.

A comparison of the efficiency of the new television-based publicity tools such as sponsored shows and product placement with conventional twenty-second commercials reveals that the traditional method takes one minute to generate the same impact produced by a non-conventional one in five seconds. This is the reason advertising campaigns using technologies such as augmented reality may also be more effective. Häagen Dazs invited its customers to enjoy a two-minute virtual concert in the time it takes for the ice cream to soften. And National Geographic showed dinosaurs strolling through a shopping center.

Risk publicity

But interactive advertisements also have certain drawbacks, as they may feel too aggressive. Pedro Reinares, researcher in the field of Commercialization and Market Research at the Rey Juan Carlos University (Madrid) points out the example of spam: “This is a resource that burnt itself out because it failed to exploit its potential by going beyond the technology”. He claims that in the same way, if the new technologies are not “sustained”on a strategy, they will not produce the “expected”results but instead lead to “saturation”. This is the reason he is convinced of the need for significant research because companies run the risk of doing things “unscientifically”in such a way that the results cannot be measured.

It also remains to be seen what effect this type of initiatives really have on the consumer, if any at all. Reinares considers that we need to nuancethe efficiency of these campaigns, as they “catch people's attention”, but may not generate any emotional bonds, and may even produce “rejection”. In fact, a study by the University of Bath (United Kingdom) reveals that creativity and the emotions conveyed are the key to the success of the advertisement -as remarked by Reinares-, while the message itself is irrelevant.

One of the tools technology offers to bring rigor to advertising is big data, as it can provide information that enable offers to be customized according to gender, age and socioeconomic level. The founder and executive director of EGI Group, Ronan Bardet, claims that it is precisely the field of big data that “is right now revolutionizing”the marketing of digital commerce. This allows an online store, for example, to use information such as the customer's zip code to recommend clothes that are appropriate for the weather. The combined analysis of their databases allowed T-Mobile in 2011 to reduce the loss of clients by 50% in 2011.

The attraction of these technologies, according to Bardet, lies in the fact that “they really improve”the shopping experience. The expert in e-commerce gives the example of the IKEA catalog, which allows you to see on your mobile or tablet how each item of furniture would look in your home. And he also points to the “virtual eyewear fitting rooms”, where customers can see themselves wearing the model of glasses by means of a web cam.

Reinares is optimistic about the possibilities of the new technologies, which “are a giant step forward”and “will change”our understanding of advertising, provided it is accompanied by a strategic development. Bardet concludes: “These are not just some future invention, these are methods that are already in the process of development”. Whatever the outcome, the world of advertising has not escaped the worldwide revolution brought by technology in the last century.