Revolution, my arse.

So, you may have noticed yesterday in the news that Tesco have signed a deal with, ahem, Amscreen to install hi-tech screens in their petrol stations that scan the faces of shoppers to detect their age and sex so that advertisers can target them with a tailored message.

Yep, you read that right folks. Petrol stations. 

A petrol station. That sanctuary. That haven. That oasis of calm where a captive audience of relaxed car drivers with time on their hands are going to be most receptive to pay full, undivided attention to a piece of digital advertising on a screen while they are trying to pay for fuel, fags and a cheeky pasty. 

Unsurprisingly, given the vast amount of cash that's no doubt changed hands, this is being talked up by both parties as some kind of advertising revolution.

Revolution, my arse.

More like a couple of fairly meek and apathetic protestors gently waving a placard in an empty cul-de-sac. 

I promise you, this innovation will not overthrow the status quo and create some kind of new world order for the advertising industry.

Technology can be a great enabler but just because you can do something, it doesn't automatically follow that you should. 

This malarkey is just another instance of taking every opportunity to bombard people with ads without any real regard for human nature or due consideration as to whether there is any appetite and desire for them to be consumed.

Given the extremely limited dwell time in petrol stations and the mindset that customers will be in whilst at the till, my instinct is that ads in this "medium" will end up being seen like one giant banner ad. 

Just irritating and distracting noise that will end up being screened out. 

Wallow in these marvellously deluded soundbites from these pioneers of technology and groundbreaking retail wizards.

Simon Sugar, Amscreen Chief Executive and son of you-know-who said "This could change the face of British retail" 

And Peter Cattell from Tesco had this to say "We're always looking to work with partners who provide innovative ways to enhance the customer shopping experience… The ability to tailor content based on time and location means it can be extremely useful and timely for our customers".

Who the fuck is he kidding? It's all about Tesco trousering pots of money from desperate advertisers.

I'd sincerely like to know how this intrusion actually enhances the "customer shopping experience" [if you can genuinely call buying stuff in a petrol station a shopping experience] or how exactly it can be useful and timely for customers.  

Sugar also claimed that the devices were "like something out of Minority Report". Not a particularly accurate or clever thing to say given that the technology raises serious issues about civil liberties and individual privacy rights.

I'm sure that most people, if pressed on the question, will probably not be comfortable with having their faces scanned or "detected" without having given any prior consent. And the argument that it's acceptable because no data is being collected is just lame, patronising and embarrassing.

Drill down into the actual detail of what the technology does and it's hardly a shining example of bespoke micro-targeting.

The cameras can only determine gender and three broad age groups. So, if I get a haircut and don't shave it'll know I'm a fortysomething bloke. That's it. 

That isn't remotely enough information to be able to produce a credible "tailored solution" for an ad as they know bugger all about what I like or buy or would potentially be interested in liking or buying.

Also, there's only one bloody screen as far as I can tell. Last time I went in, there was actually a queue at my petrol station. A not altogether infrequent occurrence either.

Does that mean I'm only supposed to get to fleetingly see the ad that's just for little ol' me when I'm actually at the front of the queue doing something else [i.e. paying for petrol]?  

I'm not actually surprised that this nonsense has been cooked up by Amscreen. Sugar's track record for genuinely innovative technology that sticks is patchy at best and as far as I can tell he's got a relatively unsophisticated, crude and blunt view of how advertising works.

It'll be interesting to keep a watching brief on this one to see what develops. Maybe I'm wrong and this will be the future.

However, for the time being I'll be counselling our clients to not get seduced by the hype and to steer clear of any involvement. There are many far better and proven ways to connect with customers than  advertising to them when they're in a petrol station.


  1. How tailored can a product be at a service station? They only sell flowers, charcoal and chocolate bars.

  2. Fuck. We got that client. Can't wait for the brief for this amazing piece of shi..I mean technological wonder to fly in.

  3. And sure enough, the brief for AMScreaming(myheadoff) just landed on my desk. Fuck me sideways.


  5. Okay, do a DVLA lookup on the car, get the location of the owner, match that to house prices, or if they have bought a Tesco insurance then to their club card - now tailor.

  6. Add in the face cam data, and the colour of the car plus the weather and any other ambient data you have and bingo. A targeted ad while you fill up.