Peter Kafka

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AOL Says It Can Literally Read Your Mind When You Watch Its Ads

aol doritoIt’s 2013, and advertisers are still spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out if you’re seeing the ads they’re paying for.

But let’s say you do see the ad: How will you respond?

AOL says it can tell, in advance. Because it has the ability to read your mind by looking at your face.

Trippy? Scary? Cool? Implausible?

Maybe all of the above?

In any event, AOL says it can deliver on that claim, via a partnership with Realeyes, which describes itself as an “emotional testing platform” that uses “biometric tracking” to gauge responses to videos.

What that means in the real world: AOL and Realeyes get people to watch video ads, on their own PCs, and track their responses via their Webcams. Then they do all kinds of “Minority Report”-level computer magic to figure out what they’re thinking, keying on things like eye movement, etc.

Obviously, AOL can only do this with volunteers, so no need to worry that Tim Armstrong is watching you watch his stuff. Unless you’ve asked him to watch you, via an independent research company.*

Here’s the AOL pitch, which it is incorporating into its BeOn distribution platform:


AOL BEON

Does this stuff really work? You got me. But at the very least, it is intriguing. Also, entertaining!

Here, for example, is some research Realeyes has performed on a Doritos ad that ran during this year’s Super Bowl. Note the big spike in happiness at the 24-second mark:

BeOn Doritos

And then look what created ad viewers’ happiness (but not surprise) in the spot itself:

“Be On integrates Realeyes emotion measurement platform into branded video campaigns
Global partnership brings facial recognition analysis to Be On’s world-class Insights service

14th June 2013, London Be On, AOL’s global branded content business, today announces a worldwide partnership with Realeyes, an emotional testing platform that measures how people feel and react when they view branded video content.

Be On can now offer biometric tracking to determine the emotional impact of a piece of video content plugging into renowned consumer panels such as CINT and Toluna. With this new partnership, brands can measure the emotional impact of their content frame-by-frame at launch or before it goes live. The addition of Realeyes means the Be On Insights package now offers advertisers the most sophisticated measurement tools in branded video in the global marketplace.

LG was one of the first brands to integrate the technology for branded video content with its latest campaign So Real It’s Scary 2. LG trialed over 600 viewers in several markets to track the emotional response to its film, which tests the theory that men cannot go to the bathroom when someone is watching them. Be On and Realeyes showed that the film performed better than 95% of ads and resonated best with the 18-34 demographic, LG’s target audience.

Although confusion was the dominant emotion for the first 45 seconds, happiness spiked strongly at the punch line, far above industry norms and remained highly elevated throughout. These learnings assured LG that the potentially controversial video performed as intended and that the strong creative was worth spending big on when it came to distribution.

With offices in London, Budapest and Boston, Realeyes strengthens Be On’s global offering, giving brands unique access to a huge database of test viewers. All content testing is facilitated through a webcam meaning content can be tested anywhere, anytime and through multiple devices, to a selection of panel users who have explicitly consented to the testing. It is then analysed in real-time to provide brands rich data around six basic emotions and performance criteria such as attraction, retention, engagement and impact. On average, the process from launching the panel testing to campaign analysis takes just 48 hours.

‘We’re delighted to be partnering with Be On to build on their already powerful mix of Insights tools for brands. Measuring the creative strength of any content at scale has been a challenge as it has relied on self-reported surveys and focus groups. With such an explosion in video advertising scale and speed , these methods now struggle to deliver credible feedback on the relationship between consumers and brands,” said Mihkel Jäätma CEO, Realeyes. “Emotions are key to successful communication and our fully automated facial coding platform can reveal subconscious reactions to any video content quickly, and at scale.”

“Since its inception, Realeyes has brought something completely new to online video advertising,” said René Rechtman, CEO, Be On. “Brands need to produce content which cuts through the noise and emotional testing at scale is a vital step in the process of getting that content right for your audience. The addition of Realeyes to the Be On offering gives brands an unparalleled 360° service, which will revolutionise the branded video marketplace.”

The partnership adds to Be On’s comprehensive and market-leading Insights package, which includes the metrics of brand uplift, competitor benchmarking, audience visibility, social buzz and emotional engagement analysis.

René Rechtman and Mihkel Jäätma will be presenting from the main auditorium at Cannes Lions on Sunday 16th June at 4pm C.E.T.”

* It is worth noting that several people who say they know how tech works would tell you that it is very easy for hackers to take control of your Webcam and watch you without your consent. Prior to Edward Snowden, I only took their claims half-seriously. Now I’m considering taping an envelope over the top of my MacBook.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik