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Brands Take Advantage of Hci Technologies

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A multi-use AmEx HCI kiosk had visitors lining up to recharge their mobile devices.

An eight-foot-tall multi-use interactive kiosk in the American Express Lounge at 2013's Fashion Week had visitors lining up.

Credit: MetroClick

It has been 12 years since facial-recognition billboards recognized Tom Cruise walking through a futuristic shopping mall in the movie "Minority Report," called out to him by name, and delivered customer-specific commercials.

Ironically, two of the brands in that cinematic sequence — Lexus and American Express —are working with the same Manhattan-based marketing firm to deliver their pitches to consumers via human-computer interaction (HCI) techniques.

Luxury car maker Lexus’s advertising agency Team One recently commissioned MetroClick to have the marketer’s Asia-based manufacturing partner build two video walls and a touchscreen kiosk for the Lexus Lounge in New York City’s newly redesigned Madison Square Garden (MSG). According to MetroClick COO Jesse Cooper, "Lexus was looking to create a dynamic and interactive presence at MSG where guests could communicate with their brand in a new way."

Those who pass through the Lounge on their way to, say, a Billy Joel concert downstairs may be intrigued by the exhibit, which is comprised of 10 46-inch wall-mounted LCD screens remotely controlled by a 32-inch horizontal touchscreen kiosk. By utilizing the touchscreen, visitors can see images of the event taking place in MSG’s main arena on the 17-foot-long, 11-foot-high wall display, or view clips of sports stars in action, or even check out new Lexus car models. They can also interact with a Lexus dealer map, choosing the dealership closest to them and communicating via a keyboard about which cars they’d like more information; or, they may enter a sweepstakes.

MetroClick CEO Eitan Magid acknowledges that some of the ideas his firm proposed to Lexus were "not the right fit for this application," because of privacy or crowd-control issues. "They didn’t want to encourage users to congregate at the kiosk for more than a few minutes, because it is situated where crowds need to pass through," he says. Similarly, the suggestion to mount a camera in the kiosk to take photos that could then be shared on social media was rejected, in part for privacy concerns, he added.

Magid believes his company’s job is to push the envelope and encourage brands to go beyond generic HCI, adding that it "can be a challenge to find the right balance at times."

American Express—whose agency also approached MetroClick—was less hesitant, and wound up with what Magid says is his most advanced kiosk, one that now travels to various conventions. The 8-foot-tall kiosk, which resembles a giant smartphone, incorporates a 55-inch touchscreen, a camera, and 12 charging stations. Users have the choice of downloading a new AmEx app which is sent as a text to their phone; having a photo taken of them in various locations and then either sent to a friend or shared on Facebook, or playing a game. Yet what really had visitors to the American Express Lounge at 2013’s Fashion Week lining up were the 12 stations behind the kiosk where they could charge up their mobile devices.

"If we had our way, we would have added other features, like giving guests free Wi-Fi if they agreed to watch a 10-second advertisement," says Magid. "But sometimes what we think is very conservative, the client thinks is ‘way out’, and they prefer to start slow and not scare the user."

Advertisers typically believe HCI’s interactivity and its ability to engage is a good way to help build their brand, says Jon Froehlich, an assistant professor of computer science at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. "Because you’re more likely to spend a bit more time with something that’s interactive," he says, "it may be a good way to convince you to, say, buy a Lexus, or at least to remember the brand."

‘Approachability’ is important, Froelich says. One of the big successes of the iPhone, he explains, was its "natural user interface" -- how comfortable and intuitive it is, for instance, to re-size a photo with two fingers.

"For the Lexus kiosk to be approachable, it had to be understood fairly quickly," Froehlich says, "and that is why, I imagine, Lexus didn’t want [its kiosk] to be too complex, especially for a car that seems to attract a mature audience that doesn’t require as much of a ‘wow factor,’ as would a younger audience."

Froehlich believes HCI will really take off in marketing when advertisers and the public perceive technologies like facial recognition, full-body interaction, and tracking of movement as less intrusive, and that this trend, for better or worse, is likely inevitable.

"There are now so many new ways to advertise using HCI," says Froehlich. "Think of the new gas pumps with little LCD screens on top that play commercials as you fill up your tank, trying to take advantage of those three minutes to sell you something. Now imagine a little camera on top, whose recognition software might take one look at your car and say, ‘Mr. Smith, it sure looks like your car is a little old and rusted out there. Ever think of buying a Lexus?’"

Paul Hyman is a science and technology writer based in Great Neck, NY.


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