Minority Report Style Advertising One Step Closer To Reality

We all remember that cool scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise is walking through a mall and all of the ads he sees are customized for him only. Ever since its release in 2002, this futuristic scene has been the gold standard to strive toward for advertisers with an eye on where digital is taking shopper marketing.

And although technology manufacturers have taken baby steps toward this in the past, Panasonic has announced that it is partnering up with Photon Interactive to deliver a much closer representation of what the movie promised:

The goal is to combine Photon’s software with Panasonic displays, so that those displays will know more about the customer. That information can be used to deliver targeted offers, as well as check in, make purchases, and more.

For example, the company says that at a brick-and-mortar retailer, a customer might look at the digital signage, view personalized offers, bring up directions to where a product is in the store, and scan bar codes with the mobile app to make purchases. Or in a fast food restaurant, the customer could either order from a kiosk or on their phone, then pick their food and offer feedback through the kiosk.

Although the privacy implications might seem scary (how do you opt out of something that is scanning your biometrics? Can other shoppers see and hear your personalized ads?). But, once in action, it’s hard to not predict that all retailers will be jumping on board with this highly-personalized targeting. Seems like a win compared to a world of static, one-size-fits-all displays.

-via Jalopnik

No Strings Attached

As the digital age advances, people are becoming increasingly more independent and self-sufficient. Social networking sites and interactive apps are creating unprecedented accessibility to resources and knowledge that have empowered consumers to ask more of brands and question their loyalty. With so many options out there, consumers are feeling less of a need to commit to just one brand, or to even make a commitment at all.

Some companies, such as T-mobile, have recently taken an aggressive approach to this trend, telling consumers to “break up with your carrier” and switch to no-contract wireless plans. Ride-sharing companies like Uber and ZipCar are on the rise, making it convenient for people to only use cars as needed, as opposed to buying or leasing. Even trends in listing personal items for resale, or even the option to rent, are showing growth in the form of websites and apps.

RentTheRunway is an e-commerce site that was created under a comparable mindset, solving for both consumers who have champagne taste, but not the budget, or those who are in a bind and quickly need an outfit for an event, never to be worn again.

This idea of being able to indulge in designer fashions and accessories, without permanently investing in the retail price, has become increasingly appealing for many young Americans.

While this is an understandable trend in consumable goods, this non-committal tendency seems to have successfully seeped into our personal lives as well. Some people have started entering marriage with the negative impression of “well, if it doesn’t work out, I can always get divorced.”

People are more publicly being caught cheating on their spouses, and others are beginning to question if this is happening because we have more “access” to each other, or because we are simply decreasing our loyalty due to an increasing desire to maximize our options?  Could we really thrive in a society with the mentality of “no strings attached,” or will the primitive mindset lead to our eventual demise? Only time will tell…

Gaming, For Life

I’m an innately competitive person.  Whether that has to do with growing up playing almost every sport imaginable or just loving the gamification of life, I’m not really sure… But sometimes I find it next to impossible to contain myself.

This is a trend to which many can relate. Everyone has played some version of the “time game.” You know, where you feel like you’ve been working for hours, you guess the time, only to be immediately devastated when you learn that your guess was at least an hour ahead of reality. Or when you’re using a GPS and do everything in your power to beat your estimated time of arrival.

For some reason, everyday tasks just feel so much more fun and rewarding when you turn them into a little competition.

So how can we translate this practice into our lives for us to become the “best version of ourselves?” According to TED speaker Jane McGonigal, “we feel as if we are not as good in reality, as we are in games,” so we should try to find ways to make the real world function more like a game.

Hundreds of apps have picked up on a similar theory. Coupled with geofencing, users can earn points for visiting new locations, redeem rewards and advance to different levels just like they can do in most games.

Websites like Lumosity also follow this premise, going as far as stating that you can actually “train your brain” with games, and become faster at everyday tasks and retain more information.

So how can you get away with applying similar gamification to other aspects of your life, particularly the workplace?

It’s not like you can take bets on how long your weekly client call will last, or how many times your boss will throw around industry jargon in a presentation. Many question the ethics and legality of office pools and similar activities as it is, even in the most innocent of circumstances.

Furthermore, when office “games” are an effort from HR to encourage teamwork and bonding, they usually end up being more of a pain than pleasure to participate in.

Playing games, says McGonigal, boosts four types of resilience: physical, mental, emotional, and social — which are all needed in our personal and work lives. So if the science behind it is right, then we really should be making the everyday tasks of life into games to make a better world, and a better you. Let the games begin!

La culture du travail

As a first generation American, it came as a surprise for me to see people in the US work so hard at jobs that seemed to be making them miserable — jobs that literally were driving them to an early grave.

Where my family comes from, work seems to come secondary, or even tertiary to family, friends and quality of life.

Not to say that I came from any sort of slacker roots. Au contraire. I grew up around very driven, successful people. Aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents speaking a minimum of three languages, adorned with Masters Degrees, holding highly coveted jobs — all while surviving a 15-year Civil War.

Approximately 70% of Americans seem to hate their jobs or are regularly disengaged in the workplace. Has this generation of Americans missed the boat when it comes to work-life balance? We’ve all heard “When you truly love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work” and we all know it to be true. We long for it. So how can Americans begin to adopt this seemingly passé attitude and still earn the respect of their peers? It comes down to office culture.

To most in the corporate world, a job is a job and work is what it is. But in advertising, one of the most important determining factors that goes into choosing an agency are the culture and values. Instilling a work-life balance needs to trickle from the top down.

Managers need to lead by example to show that “hard work” and “over work” are not necessarily synonymous, and that employees cannot produce their best work if they are not given adequate time for themselves. This is one of the most important things that supervisors can teach in order to preserve sanity and inspire creativity and growth. Sometimes, you have to leave the office and look up, catch your breadth and take in what’s out there.

When in Shanghai: Part 3

We Are What We Buy

I love visiting grocery, drug, convenience and even big-box stores when traveling abroad. My husband does not always view these visits as highlights of our vacation, but he’s generally a good sport about it.

When I am traveling on business, I visit with immoderation. Seeing what is on the shelves of stores (and what isn’t), how the shelves are merchandised, what the packaging looks like, prices, what is in shoppers’ carts, etc., … can draw a vivid picture for me of the marketplace and the people. You can learn about customs, tastes and traditions just by walking into a retail store.

While recently in China, I noticed in a Watson’s drug store that there were no aspirin or pain relievers to be had on the shelves – no section at all on the floor dedicated to these products. It turns out that in China you need a prescription for aspirin and analgesics or at least need to speak to a pharmacist to buy what you need for what ails you. Even in Europe, where things are still behind the counter in drug stores, you can point and ask for what you want. In China, you need consultation. And coming from a country that has end caps of Tylenol during “cold and flu season,” it was sort of a stunning observation. It made me think differently about a headache or a sore leg.

In Carrefour and Walmart, three areas within the store really stood out for me:

1) The candy and sweets section. Notice I didn’t say aisle; it was a section of aisles and took up a large percentage of the store, with everything from packaged candy bars, gift packs and baskets, to container upon container of individually packaged pieces of bulk candy, merchandised the way I am used to seeing grains or nuts at a Whole Foods back home. And there were so many interesting and different types of candy. Tiny, individual “pudding cups” filled with pieces of fruit, suspended in a sweet gelatin base (unrefrigerated) made up most of one, long aisle. Clearly this is a go-to snack for Chinese kids. It reminded me of the Del Monte Snack Pack of my childhood. But that was fruit suspended in sugary water, not jelly. I can say without any research, these would be a hard sell in the U.S. because the concept of jellied sweets is not a popular, mainstream texture profile here; not yet, anyway. And I am sure my Del Monte Snack Pack would seem watery and odd to the Chinese.

2) The fresh fish section of the store. There was a wide assortment of seafood including fresh, fileted fish, laid out on ice, like you would see at a U.S. grocer or fish monger – salmon, tuna, clam, mussels, etc., … but what you wouldn’t find was the large, aerated tank of live frogs or the live, local yellow croaker fish swimming next to them in an even larger tank. I am sure that if I liked frog legs, these would be the freshest I had ever tasted, but from my perspective, the frog tank belonged in the pets aisle. Of course, if one of my fellow Chinese shoppers had walked into a Petco in the U.S. and seen the frog tank, he or she might wonder why that was the only human “food” they were selling in there!

3) Fresh fruits and vegetables department. I could have created my own game show in this department – Name that Spiky, Brown Fruit! This is where, as a cook, I get frustrated traveling abroad, not being able to fill up my cart and go home and try these exotic, interesting foods. There were huge piles of interesting, unknown-to-me produce with signs above them, written in Chinese characters, so I really had no idea what half the stuff was. I did a few sniff tests and took a lot of pictures. One fruit I had never tried before going to China was dragonfruit, which I loved and know that I can get in New York.

Convenience stores were smaller and cleaner (for the most part) than their U.S. equivalents, but they served more as prepared-food destinations. I visited a 7-Eleven and a Family Mart at the lunch hour and they were bustling like we would think of a QSR in the states. They had prepackaged vegetable, rice and chicken plates on the shelves, alongside boxes of crackers and chips. I guess the chicken was preserved in some way as to not need refrigeration, but the look of it was still a little unsettling. And there were interesting flavors of chips to accompany the meal, like shrimp and salted-fish flavor. I am a fish and seafood lover, so why not a chip flavored with those ingredients? What is new and unknown might be delicious. Might it also be just a little weird?

While there were several fun and funny differences between these retail experiences and the familiar ones back home, there were as many similarities. Merchandising clearly matters; I saw some great displays and well-stocked and maintained shelves. Wayfinding was in place and helpful (if you read Chinese) and there seemed to be a familiar flow to the store’s layout, so finding the different sections and departments was not hard. At Carrefour, there was a huge, well-stocked imports section, (accurately) reflecting the presence of a large ex-pat community nearby who shopped the store. At Walmart I saw families with full baskets clearly doing the weekly “big shop.”

Shanghai is a world away from New York City, of course, but I was very much at home in retailers I know (and several that I didn’t), surrounded by brands I know and love (and others that piqued my curiosity and were loved by my fellow, local shoppers). Shopping is social, even if you don’t speak the same language. We can express ourselves and define parts of ourselves by what ends up in our basket – and that’s true anywhere in the world.




When in Shanghai: Part 2

Upstairs, Downstairs

The Chinese boomtown Shanghai is a city of juxtapositions. There are the ones you expect: ancient buildings standing behind glittering towers erected as recently as 15 years ago; traditional neighborhood noodle restaurants sharing a block with Starbucks; or Mercedes-Benz taxis parked alongside rickshaws. But for me, on my recent visit, one of the most stark and surprising juxtapositions was the retail scene.

Beneath the Museum of Science & Technology in Shanghai, the most visited modern museum in China, lies a tourist attraction with realistically more draw than the museum could ever hope for: AP Plaza, a.k.a the “fakes market.” It’s a cavernous maze of individual stalls selling the literal retail underground: designer knock-offs of everything, including watches, sunglasses, handbags, shoes, scarves and umbrellas, even cosmetics. Many of the counterfeits perfectly mirror the luxury items they are ripping off, down to the tiniest detail. Even if the booty is tantalizing, the experience is stressful. Sellers are extremely aggressive and the setting dingy and disorganized.

Just across town, very much above ground, are some of the most massive, swanky and impressive retail stores I have ever seen. Here is where you’ll find the authentic versions of those luxury items. The stores themselves are opulent, ultra-luxe showrooms, with spectacular visual merchandising and highly trained and polished sales people. And the items themselves are ones of great tradition, quality and even greater expense.

I was a shopper in both of these very different worlds this past week. What struck me was that the tie that binds them both: brands. The allure of brands, and the power they have to reward us, fulfill us, validate and make us feel special, is a unique but global phenomenon. There would be no fakes market without the brand love and desire engendered by legitimate brands, sold at “real” retail, over the span of generations.

Does buying your second fake Louis Vuitton bag in a dirty basement under a museum qualify you as brand loyal? Do fakes leave the shopper with the same pride of ownership and joy from the purchase and subsequent use of the real thing? Do throngs of shoppers carrying fake bags marginalize buyers of real goods?

The matters of brand loyalty (or brand fascination, perhaps) and pride of ownership can get murky. But I think there is little doubt that a sea of fakes muddies the waters of global retail and cheats buyers of authentic goods. But, regardless, it begs the question: Just what is the true value of a brand? It is a question that threatens, to some extent, the luxury end of retail. I do not believe the fake versions of their products are stealing much revenue. For the most part, people who buy the fakes are unlikely to purchase the real thing anyway. But what is being stolen is brand cachet and reputation.

I remember clearly the first time I bought a designer handbag. I had saved for it and was excited to go buy it but also a bit nervous about the price. The very chic, older saleswoman sensed this and said, “Don’t worry dear, I was your age when I bought my first one, and we will both be buried with these bags. They are timeless and of a superior quality.” I felt satisfied and smart, like I was making an important “investment.”

Buyers of knock-offs, of course, are getting as close as they can afford to get to being a part of a brand-name club. Those who can afford the real thing usually buy it, paying the high price to participate in the whole luxury brand experience. They are buying into the opulent store setting and stylish sales people as much as they are buying the actual designer bag or timepiece. But when they see their prize possessions filter down to the masses not just in imitations but exact copies of the same product, does it tarnish the privilege of ownership?

It’s tough to envision a resolution for this divide. While vendors of fake goods around the world get policed and shut-down from time-to-time, the source of these good knock-offs is a thriving component of the Shanghai economy. It may be underground, but it’s a major tourist attraction with barely the hint of impropriety or dishonesty.


When in Shanghai: Part 1

The Chinese market shopping experience (pearls, home goods, clothing and accessories and “the fakes”) is its own kind of dynamic retail. In a country of 1.3 billion people, finding jobs and making money is not an easy thing to do. Couple that with a culture (and history) of commerce meets corruption and counterfeit, the lack of physical space in crowded cities, and a language so different and difficult for nearly all foreigners and the stage is set.

Frenetic, slightly ‘sketchy’ vendor markets with aggressive “sales people” and language barriers that make the back and forth on price nearly impossible are certainly not unique to the Chinese market experience. And let’s face it: the experience itself can be a big part of the fun of any foreign travel. Haggling for a treasure in a foreign place and in a foreign tongue is the stuff of travel memories. These items become our trophies and proof positive that we are excellent and intrepid shoppers! Ha.

But to enjoy the market shopping in Shanghai one must go into it with the right perspective. Westerners need to adapt their notions about personal space, rethink what constitutes aggression, and reconsider the whole concept of customer service. Think Hunger Games meets the Amazing Race crossed with Deal or No Deal and you will begin to get closer in your head to the experience you will have.

We entered the first market (the wholesale market that sells to anyone) and we were swarmed. Everyone was excitedly asking (screaming, really) WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR, LADY? (in clearly comprehendible English). Shoving printed brochures at us with blurry photos of knock-off Gucci bags and Rolex watches. We politely said “no thanks” and kept walking. They kept walking too, very close behind, kept asking and nudging. We plotted how to lose them down the next crowded aisle of stuff. For the record, it makes it hard to shop when you are feeling the urge to run!

Eventually, though, they give up and whatever fear might have existed in us was quickly replaced by the familiar comfort of retail therapy in a discount environment!  As in other countries where haggling is a way of life, such as Morrocco, once a price is set by the seller (usually by typing into a calculator and showing you) you cut the number in half and if they don’t honor your price, you walk away (because they will eventually honor your price!). And this applied to the people selling the fake watches and handbags as well as those selling much more expensive, high-end jewelry in the same locations.

The well rehearsed back and forth seems so silly to me. These people are not stupid, quite the opposite. They are hard working and enterprising and certainly all speak more English than I did Chinese! They know what my guidebook told me to do! I imagined they simply typed into their calculators double the price they wanted, so the games could begin and they would come out whole.

I survived and even thrived in the markets of Shanghai. I have a few pair of sunglasses, some silk pajamas, and a string of fresh water pearls to show for it. Did I pay a ‘fair’ price? Who knows? And to some extent, who cares? The price seemed fair to me for what I was buying and the seller seemed happy after our sparing match was over and a price was decided.

In a sea of merchandise sameness and after the chase, how did I choose which stall to buy my treasures? I picked the same way I choose a sales person at a department store in NYC: the one who was the least aggressive and pushy and who seemed the friendliest.

I just had to alter my Western understanding of those descriptors to fit the situation. It was fun.

Branding Ourselves…Literally

We have all entertained the idea of doing something that had been deemed “forbidden” under the judging eyes of society. Maybe it was the second you turned 18, because you felt empowered by the fact that you were now legally an adult. Now in your late 20s, mid 30s and 40s, as a thriving professional with a salaried job and growing 401k, have the times changed enough that toying with the idea of getting your first tattoo isn’t ludicrous?

What if you didn’t have the urge to get inked in your glory days? After all, your mom had always warned you against permanently branding your body by instilling the fear in you that it would limit your future and keep you from getting a “real” job.

Athletes, for instance, are able to shamelessly flaunt their tattoos and are often praised and well-respected for what they represent, so why should people with more conservative jobs be held to “higher,” and arguably more condemnatory standards?

Despite any possible lingering stigma of baring tattoos in the corporate world, it appears that an increasing number of people are looking to tattoos as a form of artistic expression drawing from personal experiences in their lives, as opposed to simply getting stamped with a design of the times.

Brands could learn a lot from this way of thinking by putting a similar amount of thought into what your brand says to the world. Say it loud and show it proud. Similar to tattoos, people may or may not easily interpret the meaning and reasoning behind them; but they serve as a great conversation starter. Just like a tattoo does for an individual’s “Brand,” a marketer’s Brand image and voice can provide us with insight as to what they’re all about, what they value and ultimately have to offer.

PSA for Life Jackets Feels Hauntingly Real

With the coming of Spring and Summer, the weather warms up and folks will be looking to cool off with trips to the beach or to the lake. The teaser above for CLM BBDO’s A Trip out to Sea PSA for Guy Cotten, a French marine equipment and clothing brand, will make you think twice about turning down a life jacket for the sake of showing off your cute bikini on your first boat outing of the season. The interactive site will ensure your life jacket is snug and secured before you ever step foot off land. The Guy Cotten connection is minimally-done, which is nice and feels appropriate given the levity of the subject matter, but the connection is evident none-the-less.

Through the compelling video and interactive site, you, the viewer, will see from a first-person simulation what it is like to drown and it gets real, real fast. On the interactive site, users must constantly scroll their mouse in order to keep above water to reinforce the repetitive nature of treading water. There’s only one way this exercise ends and it’s not being swooped up to safety by a luck dragon. It’s a hauntingly vivid portrayal of one’s last thoughts before succumbing to the deep.

Now, I think it would be interesting to take this already emotional PSA to another level and it could be done through a number of methods. One way I think its impact could be even more immediate would be to display it at retailers selling boats and outdoor equipment. If this site was connected with a brand sold commercially in the U.S., I could imagine a large, interactive display at a place like Cabela’s or REI that would enable shoppers to experience this right next to the life jackets in the store. The point would be made immediately and hopefully, trigger sales and usage of these life saving devices. Another way would be to have lake patrollers who check boats for life jackets cue this up on waterproof tablets during their stops, so instead of just feeling like a fun-day-at-the-lake downer, they could educate people about the realities of drowning to further reinforce the need.

Credits: Guy Cotten and CLM BBDO