Pay Per Gaze

Marketing has always hinged on raising awareness of your company, product, or service, but it’s always been difficult to judge the best places to get people’s attention, or be sure they’ve seen your ads. Not anymore.

In Manhattan’s Times Square, companies pay millions to occupy space that would be in a pedestrian’s line of sight. During the Super Bowl, with a domestic viewership around 100 million, companies pay exorbitant sums for mere seconds of airtime–in fact, for many of the fairer sex, the commercials themselves have become the main attraction; forget about the game.

But how much will the market bear for the ability to advertise directly into your eyeball; a hop, skip, and a jump away from your cerebral cortex? We’re about to find out.

You can thank Google (who else?) for this latest Orwellian surge into the future of mass communications

With the advent of its Google Glass device, the necessary next question for the company was: now how do we advertise through it? Well, the answer has arrived, as the company has just been granted a patent for a Glass-based ad system.

It’s being called “pay-per-gaze”, with advertisers to be charged based on the number of times a Google Glass user looked at their specific ad. The “gazes” would be tracked using a unique system housed within the “head-mounted unit”–i.e., Google Glass–itself.

So, how can they be sure they caught you looking?

Well, the gaze tracker is going to stare directly into your pupils, of course! Google will earn its copious ad dollars based on whether or not your pupils looked at an ad, and for how long they did so.

What form will these ads take, exactly? What will you be…gazing…at?

Google will likely start by adding a real-life 3-D-style layer of advertising to billboards and other kinds of physical signage in public spaces. There will be Glass-tailored messages visible primarily to users. If you look at the billboard–boom, you just cost a marketing department some money and possibly saw something that interested you.

In addition to billboards and whatnot, you’ll likely see digital menus pop-up in restaurant windows (in your lenses), holiday sales appear on the edifice of department stores, etc.

But that’s just scratching the surface.

What about the sinister-sounding ‘Phase Two’ of Glass-vertising?

Some companies will be content to ride the initial wave of public interest and early adopter hipness with Glass billboards, and their journey will end there.

But for the serious-minded advertisers–the marketing department Terminators–the fun really starts with the second phase: pay per emotion.

The direction your pupils are gazing, and for how long they gaze that way, is one thing. (OK, technically, that’s two things.) But the real marketing value is found in what your pupils actually do when they’re staring at an ad.

As you probably know, your pupils dilate to varying degrees when your mind is subjected to differing emotional states. Everything from sexual attraction to hunger to shock can, in essence, be tracked and paid for.

So, if you happen to look at an image of a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone and suddenly desire a banana split, or you see a comely young woman in a pair of tight Gap jeans you like–boom, those advertisers just paid some more.

Where is all of this going?

We live in an era where the phrase ‘science fiction’ has become a synonym for ‘research & development phase’, so the sky’s pretty much the limit. But we’re pretty sure this is what the future looks like, more or less:

Already, there exists a plethora of increasingly sophisticated thought-reading technology that detects the electromagnetic activity in human brains and interprets that into some form of action. In the not-so-distant future, the tech will exist to enable you to think about something you saw advertised and, by power of thought alone, mentally purchase it faster than you can say “completely unnecessary impulse buy”.

To be sure, there’s going to be a certain creepy familiarity to all of this, as Nike, American Express, and Budweiser begin recognizing you on the street and trying to sell you things. And yes, that’s a barrier that Google and other innovators will have to overcome. But overcome it they (most likely) will.

After all, 20 years ago, most people probably saw no need to be reachable by a phone 24-7/365. Just 10 years ago, there were still skeptics questioning why anyone would need to befriend people they’ve never met via computer, or why people would waste time trying to express their political opinions in 140 characters or less. So, we know how that goes.

And of course, there will be a whole host of regulatory changes and legislative “solutions” to the problems that will inevitably crop up, related to this kind of in-your-face advertising. With public confidence in the defense of their privacy rights pretty much as low as it goes, there will be more skeptics.

But if history is any guide, over time, even the skeptics will soon find themselves thinking about the latest in non-stick frying pan technology and a scant week later, it will be showing up at their doorstep.

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