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October 2008

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The Movie on the Cover: Animated Print Ads Are Here


by Glen Emerson Morris
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For the first time in history, a magazine was sold at newsstands with an animated video ad on one or more of the pages. The place in history goes to a limited edition of the October and 75th anniversary issue of Esquire magazine. It took over a year to produce, but it seems to have been worth the effort. The limited edition, with blinking words and backlit photos on the cover, flew off the newsstands, often to people who rarely read Esquire.

Video print technology is in its early stages now, but over the next decade the quality of the display will improve dramatically, costs will decline drastically, and video print ads will become about as common as full color printing.

In the future, off the shelf technologies will make it possible to update a product's packaging, including all graphics and text, after the product is on the shelves. Combine this capability with Internet based marketing data sources and it will be possible to individually customize the packaging of any product to appeal to whatever specific consumer is looking at it at that point in time.

So, how do you come up with, on the fly, the most compelling packaging for one individual consumer out of millions? Nothing available can do that now, but it's not hard to see how several current information sources and technologies could be combined to do just that.

One of the best new sources for marketing information is the myriad of social networking Websites. Millions of consumers use these Websites to express what is unique about themselves, and this tells a lot about what sales pitch it takes to reach them. With work, this data could be a major source used to customize ads.

Imagine a few years from now… a person walks down the cereal isle of their favorite supermarket. A new health oriented breakfast cereal box detects the person, via one of several methods (detecting and tracing their cell phone, RFID dongle, face recognition, or some other technology). The cereal box then uses its built-in Internet connectivity to request a packaging update from its manufacturer, or a marketing service the manufacturer uses to provide on the fly packaging design and update.

The packaging update application queries several sources to gather information to base the new packaging on. Basic demographics on the consumer are immediately available, and several social networks also have relevant information.

To determine the best image for the box's front, information about the photo preferences of the consumer are accessed from Slide.com, a San Francisco startup providing image management services for MySpace, Facebook,com and other social networks. Through Slide.com it is determined that the person has posted many photographs tagged “nature” and “southwest,” and they have downloaded many photos with those tags as well. An analysis of the person's credit card purchases indicates the person has made several flights to the southwest area in the last several years, and has used the services of guides the area for tours of canyons and other scenic wonders. This information is enough to classify the consumer as having an “adventurer” profile, one of many profiles used to determine the best sales argument to use for that individual consumer.

The person's book purchases on Amazon are scanned and it's determined that before their last visit to the southwest the person bought three books related to a scenic canyon near the airport they were flying to. This identifies which canyon the person probably visited and a stock photo of that canyon is instantly obtained from an online stock photo service and used as the front cover of the box.

The person's age is referenced to help determine the font size and other qualities, and color preferences are determined from an analysis of personal information and favoritism for photos of any particular color.

The standard headline for an “adventurer” profile type of consumer whose recreational activities involve travel of one type is the headline of “The Breakfast for People Who Get Where They're Going!” or equivalent. This headline, above a photo of a remote place the consumer has recently returned from, turns the packaging into a souvenir of an adventure the person has experienced, providing a reason unto itself for the consumer to buy the cereal box.

Another source of packaging content will be social network recommendation services like Loomia (which supplies recommendations for the Wall Street Journal, among others). Loomia uses artificial intelligence to monitor Website traffic behavior and generate peer recommendations to help similar people find and enjoy similar products, services and ideas, somewhat similar to Amazon's “people who liked this liked these…”), but taken to a new level of sophistication.

The packaging update application would also be able to determine which magazines the person subscribed to, and query for any endorsements those, or similar magazines, may have made about the product. In this theoretical example, one hiking magazine is found to endorse the cereal. A similar query is run regarding personality endorsements. It turns out two authors of books the person has read have endorsed the cereal, so three endorsements are printed on the cover. Add a few star ratings from similar “adventurers”, and the endorsements are ready.

Next, an analysis of the consumer's grocery buying purchase history determines the consumer prefers organic food with no additives. Since the cereal in question is in fact organic, this info goes in big letters on the cover, and the back of the package is given several prominent paragraphs describing details about the cereal's organic pedigree. Since the sides of the box are largely dedicated to information required by the government, the packaging customization is complete.

At this point, the package is updated and the cereal box gets to present the consumer with the most appealing and compelling packaging that technology can provide.

So how long before updatable print ads are common? The timeframe will probably be three to five years for print ads, and seven to ten years for fully updatable packaging. On the Internet, services offering effective individualized online ads may appear within a year or two.

The popularity of animated ads is assured, at least until the novelty wears off. The real work ahead will be in making sure animated ads are effective, too.


Glen Emerson Morris was recently a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.





Copyright 1994 - 2008 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved


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