A New Digital Signage Evolution Is Here!

The advent of digital signage has created excitement, hype and hyperbole for advertisers drooling to influence consumer purchase decisions. Headlines read: “Killer App,” “Digital Billboards Replace Placard Signage,” and “Enhanced Sales Lift,” chasing the elusive gods of measurement. Seminars focus on discussing, ad nauseum, the benefits of implementing a digital display strategy in stores and public spaces. Evangelists for this technology herald the vista of a new frontier: employing facial detection and recognition software solutions to focus on viewers to deliver directed messages during the three-to-five seconds of engagement with the digital sign.


Face detection/recognition and digital signage?

Knee-jerk reactions to embrace technological advances “not for intended purposes” create an interesting dilemma. The thinking is: ‘if it works here, why not here?’ Can traditional security surveillance tools be adapted for advertising effectiveness to influence consumers’ buying decisions?

Human nature and curiosity are tapped by advertisers who emphasize their brands by making media buys, offering promo codes and coupon discounts.

And advertisers would pay big bucks to obtain direct consumer information related to point of sale purchases. They are inching closer to this scientific measure by augmenting the digital message with supplemental technologies. Interactive kiosks provide a direct experience with the consumer offering a vehicle for obtaining opt-in information at the source. Two discrete viewers could separately analyze the live and recorded video stream for completely different purposes and conclusions. Retail store loyalty cards are used by millions of consumers on a daily basis. Personal information is provided in exchange. People leverage the use of cell phones to interact with smart digital signage by obtaining QR codes, texting responses or calling a number displayed on the screen.

Suffice to say we are still at the early stages of these converged technologies. New thinking places a camera in close proximity to a digital sign and then ties the back-room systems together to trigger directed ads to age, gender, ethnic audiences engaged with the signs. If these end-point locations could be dual-purposed eyes on consumers and unobtrusive surveillance collection points, the capital investment would be a private/public share and maximize the dollar spend. Naming rights and sponsors are solicited to offset public funding of institutions so why not expand this concept for this application?


Law enforcement applications

The deployment of cameras on street corners, buses, train stations and red lights has been evident for a number of years. And funding is via the Department of Homeland Security as an anti-terrorist measure. Fusion centers and emergency management offices record thousands of hours of video for incident command.

But these capital expenditures are single purpose and not intended as a vehicle to obtain marketing information for potential sales lift. In addition, these cameras are not necessarily located at direct point of sale locations. Intelligence gathering focuses on identifying known urban criminals and their associates on street corners or transit locations where crimes occur. The latest daily crime sprees include hoards of criminals invading a business establishment or grabbing smart phones or iPads on trains or buses.

Don’t expect the disparate silos of law enforcement and advertising to cooperate or share data. There is certainly no channel for sharing information between these stakeholders. The capital investment in infrastructure, hardware, software and network support services is substantial. What’s more, the purposes of the interpretation of information garnered from these cameras are too diverse; or are they?


Privacy issues continue to surface

But what about citizens’ privacy, you ask? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are vocal in opposing attempts to obtain personal information of law-abiding citizens through covert surveillance activities. They oppose random acquisition of digital photos and video that is intrusive or used to track/record movement of people from location to location.

And citizens can rest easy at night as anonymous face detection is no direct threat. Facial recognition algorithms are not invasive—there is no known database reference point to match the “anonymous” photo to a previously-established knowledge base, despite concerns that driver license photos could be matched to innocuous surveillance video networks. Governmental agencies need to reassure the public that abuses are prevented and privacy safeguarded.


So who wins?

Consumers can be confident that their privacy rights are not being trampled, advertisers can obtain statistical information provided on an opt-in basis and law enforcement expands their surveillance footprint all off of a common capital investment.



Allan M. Olbur of CALComm Technology Solutions, OLAM Development Group, Chicago, has more than 35 years of experience in converged technology including datacom, telecom, infrastructure, security and public safety. His background also includes an emphasis on specialized software development for customized applications in public spaces, mass transit, high-rise buildings and campus environments.