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Is Automatic Content Recognition the next big thing in advertising?

April 01, 2015

by Trevor Miranda - Training Team Lead

Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the popularity of apps like Shazam that use fingerprinting technology to quickly help you identify the song playing in the background. This only scratches the surface of what Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) can actually do, and whose practical uses are not just relevant to the music industry but can easily translate into advertising. More and more advertisers are starting to use ACR in traditional TV adverts to enable the viewer to find out more about their products or services by using Shazam. 

So how does ACR actually work? Basically there are two types of ACR that will use either fingerprinting (like Shazam) or watermarking technology. Fingerprinting, funnily enough, works just like a fingerprint. Shazam will take a low bit-rate recording of a song, and compare it to a database in order to determine the song title and artist. This is why if you’ve ever tried to Shazam a relatively unknown remix, you may not get a match.

Watermarking is where it gets a bit more sophisticated. A watermark inaudible to humans is placed in a song, programme or advert which allows software to read and react to it. This means that instead of simply recognising the opening credits to ‘The Simpsons’, a watermark could actually tell you what episode of the Simpsons is on. Watermarks however, must be embedded in the content itself, meaning advertisers wouldn’t easily be able to watermark TV programs.

So how is ACR actually being used in advertising? TV Sync services allow a brand to run ads on TV and simultaneously serve ads to your smartphone or tablet if you are watching that ad. Brands like Sony and O2 have already experimented with ACR and this is becoming more popular in the industry. Jeep recently promoted their latest Cherokee model by integrating mobile with TV using Shazam as the trigger. The rich media advert was designed in a way that allowed the user to ‘Shazam’ the commercial and explore the car before booking in for a test drive, but the key challenge remains getting the viewer to open Shazam in time to actually engage. 

The opportunities for brands here are huge, but there are also concerns about privacy infringement. Facebook already felt the backlash, when it launched its Facebook Messenger app, accompanied by wild rumours of the app listening in to conversations. Consumers need assurance and proof that their information is kept safe and the boundary between privacy and advert is respected. In this day and age however, where technology is evolving at breakneck speeds, the line between what is acceptable moves quickly – however ultimately the consumer still makes that decision.