business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “in the latest effort to tailor ads to specific consumers, marketers are starting to personalize in-store promotions based on products the consumer recently picked off a shelf or purchased -- and in the near future, based on what the shopper looks like.

“Dunkin’ Donuts,” the story goes on, “is among the first marketers in the U.S. to begin testing the technologies, at two locations in Buffalo, N.Y. People ordering a coffee in the morning can see ads at the cash register promoting the chain's hash browns or breakfast sandwiches. At the pick-up counter, customers see ads prompting them to return for a coffee break in the afternoon and try an oven-toasted pizza.

“In a separate test, Procter & Gamble is placing radio-frequency identification tags on products at a Metro Extra retail store in Germany so that when a customer pulls the product off the shelf, a digital screen at eye level changes its message. When a consumer picks out a shampoo for a particular type of hair, for instance, the screen recommends the most appropriate conditioner or other hair products.”

There remains considerable debate about the efficacy of such programs, and much of it seems keyed to whether consumers will find such efforts to be intrusive; after all, these technologies don’t exist in a vacuum, and shoppers are constantly being bombarded with messages and sales pitches.

KC's View:
Where this really gets interesting, in a “Star Trek”/”Minority Report” sort of way, is when these companies start using things like facial recognition software to ascertain who the customer is and therefore better customize messages to those shoppers. There will, of course, be privacy issues…

I’m not sure where the line is on all this. In all probability, nobody is going to know until the line has been crossed and we reach a point when diminishing returns converge with outraged shoppers.

“Things are impossible until they’re not,” Jean-Luc Picard once said. Or will say. We seem to be rapidly getting to the point where almost nothing seems impossible.