Why Brands Should Be Using Facial Recognition

Opinion: There is an appetite for ad content that puts the user in the front seat

Facial-recognition technology also allows for rich media interactions Spencer_Whalen/iStock

Brands are always looking for ways to make their advertisements more engaging. Well, what’s more engaging than having the customer play a central role in the advertisement?

People like to be the star of the show; lucky for them, the new facial-recognition capabilities of the latest smartphones make it possible. According to one estimate, the market for facial recognition is expected to grow tremendously, from $3.35 billion in 2016 to $7.76 billion by 2022, and at least part of that growth will be due to new advertising initiatives involving the technology.

As ad blocking grows in popularity on mobile phones, as well as desktops, marketers are faced with the constant pressure of trying to come up with innovative ways of advertising that catch people’s attentions without being intrusive.

This issue has taken center stage in recent months, with Google unveiling an ad blocking mechanism for Chrome that filters out full-page ads, ads that auto-play and flashing ads, among other annoying features.

While it’s doubtful that having an ad that automatically started playing as soon as you opened the page won many viewers, it is another sign that marketers have to start thinking about how to engage their audience in a more meaningful way.

With new features such as augmented reality and facial recognition now available to them, marketers can experiment with creating immersive advertising experiences without having to spend money on expensive architecture and time writing new application code.

The “try before you buy” capabilities of AR also extend to facial recognition. With the iPhone X, which uses invisible infrared light to create an image of the user’s face, beauty brands can create virtual makeover experiences for customers. With facial recognition and facial mapping, that experience will be more refined, providing an exchange almost as real as sitting at the beauty counter in a brick-and-mortar store.

Facial-recognition technology also allows for rich media interactions like product recommendations based on mood detection derived from a person’s facial expressions.

However, the greatest boon to mobile marketers may be with interstitials. It’ll be challenging to heavily integrate facial recognition into the ad unit itself, since users will need to grant permission to use their cameras. But, compared with a banner ad, facial recognition allows marketers to use the whole face as a canvas to illustrate the benefits of their product. With more space to work with and a more engaged user who has opted in, marketers may see higher conversion and increased customer acquisition rates.

Indeed, there are already a number of platforms that allow brands to utilize facial recognition in their content: Snapchat, for example, was one of the first to recognize the power that facial-recognition software had to draw in users; one only has to look at the popularity of Snapchat’s filters to see how much people enjoy filters that mold to their face. As a result, it’s no wonder that brands have been keen to shell out on branded Snapchat filters, with companies such as Gatorade, Taco Bell and Cadbury paying for branded lenses featuring their products and logos.

Other brands that have run campaigns using facial recognition include Expedia, which partnered with the Hawaii Tourism Authority to create a microsite featuring a variety of activities available to visitors to the islands. The site’s custom-built facial-recognition software was able to determine which footage had the most positive reaction on the user and offer a discounted vacation package accordingly.

Noah Tratt, Expedia’s global senior vice president, says that the campaign was “purposely designed [as] a contained environment that directs viewers through the marketing funnel—from inspiration and awareness with the stunning video and facial-recognition technology, to consideration with the animal guide videos and content, to conversion with tailored itineraries and booking integrated into the microsite.” For him, it’s “not just about being innovative”—it’s also necessary to be “using innovation in a strategic way to achieve the right results.”

In other words, it’s not enough to be using the latest, splashiest thing in technology: It’s about taking the time to craft a campaign that services all your consumers’ needs. That includes paying attention to their privacy demands. After all, you’re never going to win a consumer over if you trick them into accepting a feature they may be uncomfortable with.

And there will be people who are uncomfortable with the idea of giving companies the ability to access images of their face, especially if they’re not on a platform where those images disappear after 24 hours. It’s important for brands to be open with consumers and reassure them that their information will not be used for other purposes. But, as the continued popularity of lenses and filters on social media shows, there is definitely an appetite for advertising content that puts the user in the front seat.

Jean Yap-McNamara is creative director at mobile marketing solutions provider Sabio Mobile.