Pay per gaze — has Google gone one step too far?

Google glass

Google glass

Google is well known for being innovative in the online advertising space. Its flagship advertising program, Adwords, has grossed over $50bn since its inception and has created jobs worldwide, not only for Google itself but for online agencies which adopted it for their clients.

Yet whilst it’s done a great job of showing the right ads to the right users at the right time, it’s also made some fairly creepy moves lately, one of which is undoubtedly getting a patent granted for “pay per gaze”: a piece of technology (apparently used via Google Glass) which tracks how users react to the adverts they see. The main goal is to be able to deliver accurate advertising campaign analytics to companies that want to gauge it.

Analytics on advertising is one thing (and it’s extremely important for ROI) but “paying per gaze” is reminiscent of the declining television advertising model TAMS or AMPS: a certain demographic is viewing the channel at a certain time, the product is suited to the demographic and the advert is priced according to the number of people watching the channel.

What Adwords has prided itself on is the action that occurs once someone has clicked on the ad: invariably the user buys the chocolate bar, gives over their details to the lead system or becomes a fan of the brand. And yet, whilst this model still has the targeting and reporting capability that Adwords had, the actionable backbone is lost: the user is merely gazing at the advert and not interacting with it in any other way.

If one takes banner blindness as well as the old “skip ad” into account, there is a distinct behavioural difference: in pay-per-click the user chooses to click and engage whilst with pay-per-gaze there is more of a passive subconscious feel, and it’s this that creates the kind of “subliminal advertising” unease with consumers.

“Ultimately this feels like a blunt solution. There are lots of other ways to measure advertising impact – is this level of intrusion an appropriate trade-off? Even if someone sees an ad, it doesn’t mean they comprehend it or engage with it,” says Adam Russell, head of display for DigitasLBi.

On the analytics front, innovative companies like Vuact have been getting in on the act for a couple of years already: knowing how users react to your advert is the key to making better ones. Mashable mentions that the future of advertising could be pay-per-emotion where the dilation of ones eyes could see (excuse the pun) advertisers paying more.

Obviously the privacy advocates are up in arms over the apparent invasion that technology like Google Glass potentially offers. It seems as though Google has anticipated this backlash by stating that:

“Personal identifying data may be removed from the data and provided to the advertisers as anonymous analytics…in one embodiment, users may be given opt-in or opt-out privileges to control the type of data being gathered, when the data is being gathered, or how the gathered data may be used or with whom it may be shared.”

From the sounds of it, Google continues to tread the fine line between innovation and creepiness. The move from active to passive forms of advertising is, in my humble opinion, a weak move.



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