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We Know You Love Our Product: We Can See It in Your Face

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Advertising is no longer what it used to be. Traditional advertising is quickly losing its effectiveness and while digital ads have taken over big time, the greatest challenge for brands is to figure out which ads are working and which aren't.

Sure, B2C companies can use focus groups, surveys and other traditional market research techniques to understand if their efforts are hit or miss. But these are rather old -- and slow -- methods by which to glean insights in today's fast-paced business landscape. Plus, in a world where brand-consumer interactions are happening through more channels than ever before, such dated methods of measuring customer response are insufficient, to say the least.

B2C brands aren't the only ones facing this issue; it's difficult for B2B companies to measure customer response as well. With people switching rapidly and unpredictably between multiple devices during a single day, media consumption is not linear anymore. This makes it hard to tell which conversions are driven by specific ad campaigns, because, as we all know, what people click on versus what they actually like and consume doesn't always necessarily correlate. This is especially the case when content gets richer, like with video ads.

Related: The Future of Retail: Paying With Your Face?

Where's the ROI?

That's precisely the question that concerns every business owner. But when you can't track viewer response to, let's say, a newly launched video campaign, it's mighty difficult to attach any significant ROI to the campaign. You may take a wild guess, but it'll never be something you can use to know what your audience really likes and what they don't. This is a recipe for long-term failure. So, what options do we have to gauge the true impact of our video ads? Sure, there are analytics tools that help to measure audience engagement. But there's no way to know if those people who are watching your video are feeling good about it, or they are just plain bored. No way to know this, until now.

Why ask when you can see for yourself?

Some tech startups are trying to drive the experience by looking at how we react to ads. This can be done via video or in a retail store through cameras. These solutions, using facial-recognition technology, can help brands see how people respond to their products, ads and other stimuli while shopping or surfing the web.

Affectiva, an "emotion measurement technology" company from MIT, provides an analytics tool that reads the facial expression of people when they are watching a video. Marketers can then pull the data to find out how many positive reactions a video campaign has received. Affectiva's technology has been used by big market players like Kellogg Co., Mars Inc. and Unilever.

Related: This New Virtual Reality Headset Tracks Your Eye Movements

Another startup, Emotient, offers to evaluate the people's facial expressions when viewing ads on digital signs, and the company has also worked with the NBA, helping one (so far) anonymous team track how faces in the crowd reacted to ads and videos running on the arena's digital signage. Interestingly, Emotient also discovered there were more woman attending the games than previously thought, which may lead to more ads targeting women in the future. When every expression is tracked, marketers create better and more impactful content that is well received by their target audiences.

Making digital advertising more effective

Ad targeting using facial-recognition technology still faces some challenges. One such challenge is the matter of opt-in. Obviously, marketers can't start "watching" people willy-nilly. People have to opt-in, in order to allow the technology to function. One company experimenting with facial recognition is Virool (the company calls its eIQ platform "emotional intelligence in real time.") Virool said during its beta period between .5 and 3 percent of people allowed camera access, depending on the ad's publisher. One thing is for sure -- with retina display, cameras and those pesky invisible opt-ins, pretty soon we may be watched even closer than before.

So for the future of advertising, Big Brother may be watching us closer than ever, but it may not be a bad thing. It will allow us to see what truly interests us and we won't have as much of a need to weed out the noise we don't want.

Related: Get This: Facial Recognition -- For Cats

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