Brands turn to facial recognition tools

25 August 2011

NEW YORK: Brand owners such as Kraft and Adidas are considering making use of facial recognition technology in a bid to provide shoppers with more targeted information in stores.

Intel, the technology company, is one of a number of firms that has created software capable of scanning the faces of consumers, and then determining the approximate age and gender of the person concerned.

Christopher O'Malley, director, retail marketing, of Intel's embedded and communications unit, told the LA Times: "You can put this technology into kiosks, vending machines, digital signs. It's going to become a much more common thing in the next few years."

Adidas, the sportswear manufacturer, is working with Intel to test digital "walls" in several UK and US stores, displaying certain products on screens depending on a shopper's specific profile.

For example, a female consumer in her fifties would be shown a range of Adidas goods, roughly split between 60% footwear and 40% of other items from its portfolio.

"If a retailer can offer the right products quickly, people are more likely to buy something," Chris Aubrey, Adidas's vice president, global retail marketing said.

Kraft, the food group, is also in negotiations with a supermarket chain, which it did not name, about the possibility of trialling kiosks that achieve similar objectives.

"If it recognises that there is a female between 25 to 29 standing there, it may surmise that you are more likely to have minor children at home and give suggestions on how to spice up Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for the kids," Donald King, Kraft's vice president, retail experience, said.

Facial recognition tools have been more enthusiastically adopted by companies in Japan, where Universal Studios has employed a system provided by NEC to identify annual pass holders, and thus speed up their entry to its theme park.

"It's not just [for] clothing stores or restaurant chains," Joseph Jasper, of NEC's corporate communications division, said.

Facebook, the social network, has developed equivalent tools for online photos, as has Google, which produced software that took the face of someone in a picture and searched the web for images of the individual, but then opted against rolling it out.

"As far as I know, it's the only technology Google has built and, after looking at it, we decided to stop," Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, said earlier this year. "People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way."

Data sourced from Los Angeles Times; additional content by Warc staff