Describing themselves as “two guys in a garage just building something,”Abdul Alim and Shahzad Mughal are the creators of OfferMoments. Introducing itself as “one of the scariest yet exciting things you’ll see in retail,”OfferMoments is a digital billboard that changes in response to an approaching user’s social media and outfit. We talked to Abdul Alim on the concept, its future and the inspiration it found in Minority Report.
So what is OfferMoments, in your own words?
In essence, it’s one to one personal advertising.
And where did an idea like this come from?
We were watching the film Minority Report, stopped and thought if we could build that, it would be amazing. It’s the scene where Tom Cruise walks into the shopping centre and all the signs start to change. We found out how that vision of the future was derived and created it. We spent about 18 months building the technology and believe it could change the way advertising works.
What you see in the OfferMoments video is only a tiny amount of what it actually does. You walk towards the billboard and it shows you things based on your social media profile. But it also gets really smart because when you’re in front of the billboard, it scans what you’re wearing and builds a style profile. It stores the colour, the item and the actual brands you’re wearing so as soon as you walk towards it, the billboard customises itself to the fashion you like and what you might wear next week.
How does it work, in terms of the technical side of things?
The way the technology was working in Minority Report was interesting because it scanned his iris and identified him that way. We don’t have that technology available yet at that range so we were thinking of how else we could use it. The next advert that shows in the movie says “you could do with a Guinness right about now”. So we were like, hold on, what’s happening? It was trying to predict what he might want based on information it already had. The way they positioned that advertising was very smart. It was engaging based on historic purposes but also on what you might want in the future. So that’s what we try to look at.
So we thought, how on earth do you track someone with a unique identifier when they’re not a robot? The first thing you do in the morning is check your smartphone, and that’s the key. The smartphone has all the sensors we need to track you as a person and your smartphone is always less than a metre away from you. You might forget your wallet but you won’t forget your smartphone. What we found with millennials is that they’re very social media engaged and they’ll share pretty much anything. We thought, why is no one picking this up and translating it into a commercial opportunity?
The first thing is using the sensor on the phone to sense distance, direction, and what the movements of people are. People don’t really care about advertising, they care about themselves. So we’ve split the advertising so half of it is their face and they’re like “that’s my picture, it’s my face,”and you’ve got their attention. We know they’re walking towards us and we can trigger things based on their movements. So it’s taking all the context of that movie and translating it.
You’ve admitted yourself in your marketing that the concept is “scary”. Why do you choose to use that word, and why is it in fact not that scary?
The reason we use that word is because when we describe the product to people, they say “that’s quite scary”. If we want to get into their minds and acknowledge it’s quite scary then we’ll say that. However, it’s also quite cool. We say what they’re thinking and because of that, they open up and ask more questions. We start to speak their mind, and in doing so overcome that initial barrier of hesitation and create conversation.
In terms of how you’ve used it already, do you have any examples?
We used it in a popular local franchise and we got a 13% increase in their sales. It was interesting, because our biggest challenge was getting someone to download an app. This was always playing on our minds.
We modified the billboard to say “to see your face here, download this app”. We were able to see what drives someone to download something and for the millennials, it was a feeling of importance. So the first person downloaded it and soon enough, people started forming a queue just to see what they’d get recommended. They also did it so they could see their face and so they could take a selfie. They didn’t want coupons or vouchers, they just wanted to see their face. So, they downloaded the app, we had access to their profile, we gave them incentives for next year so they wouldn’t remove it and it was the overcoming of that barrier.
Thinking five or ten years ahead, where do you see OfferMoments progressing?
What we’re building in the background is something even more exciting. Augmented reality is becoming much more commonplace as it becomes smarter, slicker and more accessible. We think these billboards will be used with some level of augmented reality. Using someone’s face can be detected as they approach the billboard and we can apply make-up to their face and change that make-up depending on the brand. We’ve also tinkered with directional sound so we can talk to a person in front of a billboard and only them. We can call their name, we can use emotive voice to sing their name and change the message as they’re walking away. Sound layering is a very important aspect of what we’re doing.
Also remember, instead of putting a £50 piece of hardware in these billboards, we’re putting a £1000 module into them. And what that allows us to do is give companies a live-broadcast medium. So, just like Periscope, you’ll be able to fire up your smartphone and connect to 10,000 billboards, live, within 5 minutes and give a live message to all these people in real time. For politicians, movie stars or anyone in fact, you’d be able to interact immediately. Normally it takes 8 weeks to get on a billboard and we thought it’s such a convoluted process, we wanted to take the 8 weeks and turn it into 8 seconds.
You said customers are 16 times more likely to enter a store if they see a location based message. Have you proved any other statistics when it comes to affecting retail?
Our research is based around the local franchise we worked with, and getting people to come in. So we found that 13% increase in revenue we talked about before. The 16 times more likely statistic is actually from a TechCrunch article and research by Google. Once we’re live in shopping centres though, we’ll be able to share back what’s really happening in this environment and how people are using it.
Is there anyone else on the retail horizon you feel is doing something really exciting?
Blippar are doing amazing things. They’ve got an augmented reality app. Virtual reality is also being trialled in various retail offerings. We’re seeing things like changing room mirrors showing you other products based on what you’ve brought in with you. A lot of it requires a bit of proactive interaction from the user.
The key thing though, is how we get to omnichannel. How we merge the online and offline experience. That’s one of our focuses. We’ve got to create something in-between that’s visual, which is where the billboard bit of it comes into play.
People are able to control what they do and connect their social media to their offline world. The key question here is how do we blur the boundary between advertising and entertainment? People want entertainment but retailers and advertisers want to create transactions and if we can blur those boundaries, people will be happy to engage and purchase simultaneously.