Programmatic marketing -- the practice of anonymously serving ads to users based on their likes and interests -- is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the online marketing world. And though fretted over by some privacy advocates, these ads do deliver a net benefit to people. They see ads for the products and services they might actually be interested, instead of completely irrelevant offers.
Programmatic marketing has gotten so good, in fact, that it's almost strange when I'm in the offline world and see ads for things that I have no interest in (diapers, retirement communities, NASCAR, etc.). Well, that may be changing very soon.
Last month, the Daily Telegraph reported that IBM was developing technology that would allow digital billboards to serve ads to individuals based on their interests. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because you've seen Minority Report. In the movie, digital billboards target Tom Cruise's character by name. ("Get away, John," one ad for a travel company tells him.)
The ads are made possible by RFID chips that are used in the London Tube's Oyster cards, many credit cards, and even some smartphones. Those chips can serve as a personal identifier that, when detected by the billboard, would allow it to serve a custom ad.
Now, there was a pretty universal reaction to the Minority Report ads: people thought they were creepy. But, in all likelihood, advertisers would use common sense when implementing this technology. Though they possibly could, the ads likely wouldn't call people by names, and they wouldn't show ads for a potentially embarrassing product. (At least they better not; all it will take to kill this technology is one guy being shown a Viagra ad while getting off the subway with a date.)
Marketers are already experimenting with RFID chips, using them to create special wristbands and badges to allow people to "like" real-world things on Facebook - everything from cars to clubbing experiences. And digital natives -- young people who have grown up in the hyper-connected, programmatic world we live in -- seem to be into these kind of advertising experiences.
This could be huge, as long as advertisers approach the technology in a smart way. I could definitely see some crazy marketer thinking it's a good idea to take this swallowable RFID chip technology and advertising to people based on the state of their digestive tracks. Don't do it, PepsiCo. My digestive track will never tell you that it's a good idea for me to eat more Doritos.