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Is It Technologically Practical To Send Two Different Messages Simultaneously To Children And Adults?

Written by Evan Schuman
May 15th, 2013

One of the most challenging retail sales issues is trying to market products to children. The pitch made to sell a cereal, game, toy or piece of clothing to a child will be different than the one aimed at a parent or guardian. That’s tricky when the two are often standing next to each other.

A child pitch might focus on a cereal’s taste, with an adult pitch focusing on nutrition and price. Or a toy message to a younger customer might emphasize fun, while the adult pitch speaks of education. What if digital signage and in-aisle displays could simultaneously make different sales pitches to children and adults?

Through the use of lenticular technology, it’s quite possible. Indeed, it’s being used today for something of a much more serious nature. A Spanish operation called the Aid To Children and Adolescents At Risk Foundation has created a series of street signage that was designed to send a message to a potentially abused child, understanding that the abuser could very well be standing right him to the child.

What lenticular does is display images at varying angles, reports Gizmodo, “so when an adult—or anyone taller than four feet, five inches—looks at it they only see the image of a sad child and the message: ‘Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.’ But when a child looks at the ad, they see bruises on the boy’s face and a different message: ‘If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you’ alongside the foundation’s phone number.”

The campaign’s use of technology is clever (a video demo is impressive), and it will likely set in motion the technology’s use for a wide range of campaigns, most much less humanitarian than an effort to fight child abuse. Nothing is perfect, though. What if the victim can’t read? Even more practical, if they can read, will the child be able to memorize the phone number? If the intent is to get the message without the abuser knowing, how is the child supposed to write it down without inviting questions he/she won’t want to answer? Does the number spell out a phrase that is easy for the child to remember? What if the child (abuse comes at all ages, especially sexual abuse) is 4 feet, 6 inches tall?

This wouldn’t be among the first products to try to technologically treat shoppers of different ages differently. The Mosquito was a device that tried playing high-pitched sounds designed to drive teenagers crazy (isn’t that their default state?) but wasn’t audible to most people older than 20. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that well as many people much older than 20 can hear it quite well.

Jell-O created a kiosk that used an optical sensor to consider the customer’s face shape, along with distance measurements between the eyes, nose and ears, which is quite similar to an NEC tactic that zeroed in on hair color and ear shape to guess an age.

Of course, the more sophisticated the age-guessing tactics get, the more susceptible they become to really low-tech counter-measures, such as the Japanese cigarette-dispensing machine that was thwarted when kids held up a magazine picture of an adult’s face.

The proper way to deal with these conflicts is simply to generate two different messages, but craft them in such a way that no damage would happen if the messages were seen by the wrong prospect. As long as the child-focused message wouldn’t alienate a parent and the parent-focused message wouldn’t kill any interest from the child, these experiments shouldn’t be too dangerous. Eventually, as mobile devices start regularly appearing in the hands of younger and younger shoppers, kiosks and digital signage could use mobile signals to identify the actual age of that pre-registered shopper, rather than having to guess.

Age has to be based on some concrete metric, whether it’s the age the shopper writes down on a registration form (if it’s a child, that’s not an especially reliable number), an age grabbed from when the shopper had to show a driver’s license (perhaps to write a check or to process a return) or some other source. My favorite marketing age-accurate tactic came when we started getting very-young-child-appropriate product pitches (toddler diapers and one-level-up baby food). Turns out the source was the maternity ward, which relayed data the day a child was born to Johnson & Johnson. Say what you will about the ethics and potential backlash, but you can’t get a more accurate age base than that.


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