Advertisers Try New Ways to Get Into Your Head

If you're like most Americans, by the time you get to work in the morning, marketers have tried to sell you something more than 200 times.

Ads are now in places they've never been before -- from subway turnstiles to the floors of parking garages, and from bathroom stalls to video games.

But advertising experts say the more conventional ad barrage isn't capturing consumers' attention.

"The fact that consumers are being bombarded by so many messages basically means that they start to tune it out," said Jonah Blum, editor of Advertising Age Magazine. "It all becomes no more than white noise."

Cutting through the white noise is all about finding a better way to identify customers and what they want.

Advertisers' newest tactics include plasma screens that are being placed in shopping malls across the country. The screens analyze shoppers' faces to determine if they're male or female and then put up a different ad based on gender. They can even determine age and ethnicity.

Research shows such marketing can lift sales more than 300 percent, according to David Polinchock, the founder and chairman of Brand Experience Lab.

"The more that you can target an ad specifically to what a person is looking for, what they might need and who they are, the better you have a chance to connect with those people," Polinchock explained.

New Technologies Reveal Consumers' Thought Process

The grocery giant Stop & Shop has tried a new gadget at selected stores. Customers swipe a card and a shopping list pops up based on items the person has bought before, along with suggestions for new products to buy.

For companies, it's valuable information about buyers' habits. The question is, how will the information be used?

"If your HMO had a record of your nutritional health profile, they could use that info to raise your rates," said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer privacy expert and the founder and director of CASPIAN, Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, a national consumer organization created in 1999 to educate people about shopper surveillance.

Albrecht said supermarket cards and retail surveillance devices are merely the opening volley of the marketers' monitoring of consumers.

Retailers are tracking their habits in other ways too. In fact, the next time you go shoe shopping, consider this: New technology may be monitoring not just which sneaker you pick up, but also how long you hold it.

The point? To better understand the psychology of the consumer, or put more simply, to get inside your brain.

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