A smiling Gap employee appears on a giant flat-screen monitor just inside the store, greeting customers as they walk in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Yakamoto," she says, loudly and cheerily. "How did you like that three-pack of tank tops you bought last time you were in?"
That's a scene from "Minority Report", the futuristic thriller starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, which opens this weekend. Like "Blade Runner", another film based on the fiction of Philip K. Dick, Minority Report offers a slickly-drawn, yet gritty, view of the future. In 2054, the "Pre-Crime" unit of the Washington, D.C. police department uses technology to learn about -- and stop -- murders before they're actually committed. Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, heads up the Pre-Crime unit, whose mission he believes in wholeheartedly, until he's accused of a murder.
Alongside Tom Cruise, interactive advertising plays a starring role.
With the help of contemporary advertisers like Lexus, Reebok, Nokia, Guinness, Bulgari, and Pepsi-Cola's Aquafina, Spielberg and his team paint a fascinating picture of what advertising might look like in the future -- complete with interactivity and personalization. The vision grew out of a "think tank" of MIT futurists that Spielberg asked to imagine what the world would be like in 2054. From that team's work, and from the mind of production designer Alex McDowell, grew a panoply of ads that appear throughout the film.
Spielberg consciously decided to use familiar brands, to make the motion picture seem more realistic and, not coincidentally, to give these companies some coveted (and no doubt high-priced) product placement -- a method of marketing growing in currency given the ascendancy of commercial-skipping technology like TiVO and ReplayTV.
"The fact that there are so many advertisements in this movie speaks to the fact that advertisers are looking for new ways to reach audiences in light of the technology that's been developed like TiVO and ReplayTV," said Jeff Boortz, the creative director and creative lead on the "Minority Report" ads, who is now founder and president of Concrete Pictures. "Advertisers will figure it out."
Most of the advertising portrayed in the flick is that of the outdoor variety. Although characters interact with computer-like digital displays -- even manipulating them with fancy interface devices that fit on the hands like gloves -- there's not much marketing going on within the bounds of computer screens. In the "Minority Report" universe, interactive advertising has made its way into the real world.
How interactive is it? Imagine getting splashed by an animated digital billboard advertising Aquafina. Or having an ad in the subway say, "[Your name here], you look like you could use a Guinness," just as you're coming home after a bad day at work. At one point in the movie the Tom Cruise character, on the run, is confronted by an American Express ad that says, "It looks like you need an escape, and Blue can take you there."
"Originally, the whole idea, from a script point of view, was that the advertisements would recognize you -- not only recognize you, but recognize your state of mind," said Boortz. "It's the kind of stuff that's going on now with digital set-top boxes and the Internet."
Identification of consumers happens via retinal scans, which are presumably matched with names in a global database. The most interesting application occurs in the Gap outlet, where the virtual salesperson asks customers how they liked the items they purchased previously. The dark side of that type of technology is immediately obvious, however. One can just imagine the video screen loudly exclaiming, "How'd you enjoy that skimpy lingerie you purchased?" The privacy implications of such a global database, too, are frightening -- possibly the filmmaker's intention.
Another moment in the movie may strike a chord with interactive advertisers, especially those employing more intrusive formats like "takeover" or "floating" ads. The Tom Cruise character eats breakfast with a "Pine Oats" cereal box on the table beside his bowl. Apparently, digital ink has taken off by 2054, because the characters on the cereal box are in constant motion, and making a ruckus. In frustration with this futuristic "intrusive" brand messaging, Cruise picks up the box and throws it against the wall -- the equivalent of aggressively "killing" pop-up ads, perhaps?
That same "digital ink" technology plays a role later in the film, in a scene that takes place on the subway. Numerous characters are reading newspapers and, while no advertising is prominently displayed, the content is constantly shifting and being updated -- it's prime real estate for interactive advertisers.
So, while the portrayals of interactive advertising are a bit farfetched, it'll be heartening for those in the troubled industry to know that futurists expect it to still be around in 2054 -- finally getting the respect it deserves.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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