The best brands have always been masters of visual marketing. The distinct shapes of iconic products—the signature Coke bottle, the sensuous curves of a Porsche—are succinct, emotive forms of storytelling. Celebrity endorsements are a way to conflate a face—usually an attractive face—with a product’s values. Restaurant commercials that serve up shot after shot of perfectly lit images of mouth-watering entrees are called “food porn” for a reason.
All of these examples are, of course, about carefully choreographed imagery that’s pushed to a recipient—the passive consumer—through traditional marketing. But now we live in a culture, transformed by the smartphone cameras tucked into every pocket and purse, where consumers have become the ultimate and most prolific creators of images.
How are brands supposed to cope in this wild new visual world?
If they are smart, they will start with a little (or a lot of) help from computer vision technology.
Three examples of applied technologies emerging from computer vision leaders (that also happen to be household names), and our thoughts on how these emerging tools will drive the future of marketing:
Amazon recently announced the latest variant of its Echo line of digital assistants: the Echo Look. Press coverage of the launch focused on the idea that Alexa—the warm-voiced personification of the Echo—now has “sight,” thanks to a built-in camera that consumers can use to capture and evaluate how they look in their various outfits.
Beyond, or behind, the camera is sophisticated computer vision technology that makes sense of what the Echo Look “sees.” Right now that means that Echo Look’s Style Check function can, as Amazon puts it, help you “keep your look on point using advanced machine learning algorithms and advice from fashion specialists. Submit two photos for a second opinion on which outfit looks best on you based on fit, color, styling and current trends.”
Where it goes next: It seems inevitable that Amazon will forge partnerships with fashion brands that will leverage Echo Look to suggest what’s missing from your closet—a newly released designer top in the season’s hottest color that would go perfectly with your preferred palette, or a sale-priced brand-name scarf that Style Check could recommend just as temperatures in your area start to drop in the fall.
In May, at its I/O developer conference, Google introduced Google Lens. Mashable called it “a super-intelligent camera,” while Recode declared that “Google Lens is Google’s Future.” In the company’s own words, the technology means “your smartphone camera won’t just see what you see, but will also understand what you see to help you take action.”
Where it goes next: As much as we think of Google as a search/technology company, it’s also, at its core, an advertising company that derives the vast majority of its revenue from marketers. The sort of potential applications that Google has already discussed surrounding Google Lens—such as being able to point your camera at a restaurant’s sign and instantly call up restaurant reviews—are ripe for the sorts of sponsor-prioritized search results that are already Google’s bread and butter.
Facebook’s Code team recently announced that they have, as Director of Applied Machine Learning Joaquin Quiñonero Candela put it, “pushed computer vision to the next stage with the goal of understanding images at the pixel level.” In short, Facebook’s Lumos platform is being trained to recognize the objects and scenes in an image—for instance, if, in a vacation photo, that’s the Golden Gate Bridge behind you.
Where it goes next: Lumos could conceivably help marketers understand exactly what kind of consumer you are simply by evaluating the content of the hundreds or thousands of photos you choose to upload to Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram).
Is that a Ford Fiesta parked in your driveway? A Sub Zero fridge in your kitchen? Warby Parker glasses on your face? All of that information, passively and wordlessly conveyed in your online photos, is actionable information for those brands—and for their competitors.
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