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Ad interaction gaining traction

 

Sandra Guy

Sun-Times

December 16, 2007

Sears' virtual Wish Book -- its downsized online catalog -- appears larger-than-lifesize suspended in mid-air, with snowflakes moving around it.

The unusual sight is part of a new advertising technology greeting shoppers at the Golf Mill Shopping Center, the Ford City Mall, River Oaks Mall and seven other Chicago area shopping centers.

The Wish Book's page opens as soon as a passerby gestures over it. Watches spring out of the display and follow the shopper as he walks away. When a passerby gestures over the Wish Book again, the next page appears, featuring a woman modeling the retailer's latest fashions.

The projected images and their similarity to Star Trek's holodeck tend to attract a crowd.

"Today, when consumers have become skeptical about anything they're told in advertising, having them discover and learn about a brand on their terms, along with other people around them, drives credibility and consensus," said Mike Ribero, CEO of Reactrix, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based media company that introduced the interactive ad campaigns to Chicago a year ago.

The company's Computer Vision Technology, developed six years ago by Reactrix Chief Scientist Matt Bell, 27, uses a visioning system that operates outside of people's range of vision. Yet the camera "sees" people interacting with its projected image, digitizes the people's images, and feeds the information through a processor.

The processor uses patented software to re-project the image, complete with the appropriate effects that the people would have on the object if it were real.

"[The technology] takes the story-telling power of TV, the interactivity of a videogame, the information delivery of the Internet and the proximity to the cash register of a retail display, and brings it together in a single medium," Ribero said.

People spend an average of 9 minutes reacting to or watching the displays.

For Sears, the company is working on a promotion that would display washers and dryers until the computer system says a storm has dropped more than 4 inches of snow in the area in the last 24 hours. At that moment, the promotion would change to snowblowers.

Reactrix can handle such changes because its 185 sites, including 160 malls and 25 movie theaters, are wired to a central network that automatically updates promotions based on outside information. The weather information can be automatically pulled from Weather.com or similar RSS feed, Ribero said.

To retailers, the beauty of the projected images is their ability to wow people who are already near the store and project a message that time is of the essence to grab a great deal.

Jeff Diskin, senior vice president of brand management at Hilton Hotels, headquartered in Beverly Hills, Calif., said Hilton has used Reactrix's system to show off its hotels as revitalized and family-friendly.

Hilton is planning to mount virtual clouds on a hotel wall, rather than on the floor as in most malls, so that people could touch a part of the cloud to open a place of restoration (hotel spa), a place of luxury (a suite) or a place to eat (restaurant).

Hilton's research showed the people who interacted with its mall-based displays remembered the Hilton name and recalled the brand as friendly and accessible, Diskin said.

Erwin Ephron, a partner at Ephron Consultancy, a New York media consulting firm, said Reactrix' system associates a brand name with fun.

"Likability is one of the strongest points of difference a brand can have," Ephron said. "It taps into the experience the consumer has with the brand, and makes the consumer smile. That's a very big deal."

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