Thursday, January 14, 2010

Advertising Space

Google has patented a new system that will allow companies to advertise on billboards and signs captured in Street View.

In this patent, Google describes how it plans to identify buildings, posters, signs and billboards in these images and give advertisers the ability to replace these images with more up-to-date ads. In addition, Google also seems to plan an advertising auction for unclaimed properties.
As fascinating as this idea is, I'm far more interested in the options for product placement. Old pickup trucks covered in NRA stickers could be replaced with the latest luxury sedans. Soda bottles could be placed label outwards in pedestrians' hands. Up and coming bands could be seen leaning arrogantly against brick walls, or loading their gear into clubs.

Better yet, why not have movie tie-ins? If some dramatic scene takes place at a certain intersection in Baltimore, Google could easily add that imagery to the appropriate address on Street View.

It needn't be done digitally. A more logical method would be to reshoot the street scenes as needed, with whatever content reputable advertisers are willing to pay for. And it needn't be strictly mercenary, either; a scheme like this might well aid community redevelopment and rebranding efforts. If a street or town has a bad reputation, discarded mattresses can be cleared away, feral dogs hauled to the pound, and figures of ethnic menace replaced with Boy Scouts and nuns. With a little spit and polish, the mean streets of Trona could look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

There are also interesting possibilities for political campaigning. Candidates could be "accidentally" photographed enjoying local delicacies, tackling purse-snatchers, or praying outside abortion clinics. It'd be useful for negative campaigning, too: We're not saying that's definitely Nancy Pelosi burning an American flag in front of an inner-city mosque, but the controversy is undoubtedly illustrative of something.

Of course, there are possibilities for abuse. But that's true of everything under the sun, and I suspect that sensible guidelines for self-policing are being drawn up as we speak. All in all, I'd say this is the most exciting marketing idea since 19th-century British electricians "made the well known features of Mr. Gladstone appear in ghostly outlines in the heavens."

(Photo by Cobalt123.)

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