Unilever Boosts Marketing Strategies With Facial Recognition

Fast-moving consumer goods company Unilever has revealed that it is trialling in-store facial recognition technology in shops in both Brazil and the US, with cameras hidden on shelves that can analyse facial expressions as people approach various product displays.

According to Marketing Week, the company has teamed up with Emotion Research Lab and Mesh Experience to try and glean more detailed analytics about its retail environment.

The trial will see basic demographic profiles of different people calculated, along with the noticeability of the display in question and what – if any – attention and engagement is given to it.

Speaking at Marketing Week’s Insight Show on March 7th, BV Pradeep – Unilever’s vice-president of consumer and market insight – explained that this particular trial is meant to address the lack of effort that currently goes into measuring how effective below-the-line marketing investment is.

In Brazil, a trial with the Knorr brand saw a product display tested with and without a hanging shelf stopper. It was found that noticeability improved by 3.5 times when the stopper was a feature, although this did drop off during the second week of the trial. The stopper was also found to boost engagement with men and increased engaged impressions overall.

Mesh Experience president Fiona Blades observed that this technology could be used to compare different advertising formats in store, as well as occasion versus seasonal LED displays, cost per engagement and brand-building versus promotional messages.

He went on to say: “If you look at the area of mass media communication – whether it is television or digital – there is a lot of focus on whether the quality of the asset is right, whether the length of the TV commercial or digital pre-roll is right, whether it is placed in the right place, what is the viewership action, what is the click-through rate and many more [metrics].

“Whereas when it comes to the investment that we do in-store, there’s hardly any measurement and we feel it’s fine and it should work. This is a bit like, to me, the syndrome of a drunkard who is searching for his lost key under a lamp post just because there is light.”

This isn’t the first time that a company has turned to facial recognition to help it achieve its marketing goals – and it does look to be a growing trend.

Speaking to CNBC last year, group managing director at Jardine OneSolution Mark Lunt noted that customers are being profiled as they enter a shop, with their movements tracked and data collected including age, gender, ethnicity and how many people are entering a store.

He explained that this will help retailers know their footfall better and as a result should be better able to provide more appropriate offers to different customers. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that you should consider privacy concerns when introducing such technology and businesses do need to be sensitive in this regard.

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