New mobile ad tech targets you while you shop

Nathan Pensky · December 9, 2011 · Short URL:

Sonic Notify can trigger ads on your smart phone via bursts of sound data inaudible to human ear

Just in case you're not getting enough advertisements on your smart phone, a new ad technology called Sonic Notify is being developed by New York digital ad agency Densebrain, using inaudible-to-people sound pulses that trigger ads to spring up on your phone in specific locations. What will they think of to clutter our already ad-saturated brains next?

Say you're at a department store, browsing through a shelf of scarves. Suddenly your smart phone activates an ad about a certain kind of scarf, because the store uses the Sonic Notify technology, which has just sent a signal to your phone and triggered the ad.

Does that sound annoying or does it sound super-annoying?

But technology based around location-specific ad or reward deployment has been around for a while now. Shopkick is an app that gives users reward points simply for entering participating stores. Meanwhile, Shazam can detect a song that is playing nearby and automatically expedite the purchase of that song.

However, there's a key difference between these apps and Sonic Notify. With Shopkick and Shazam, you actually have to load the app, while with Sonic Notify, the ads happen seem to happen without the consent of the "user," or should we say "the one being used." No doubt, the technology will come with an option to disable such ads. But should this really be necessary?

That said, with the semi-Orwellian elements removed, this technology is pretty impressive. Other applications include the delivery of contextualized information in real time, as happened at October's CMJ music event in New York, where attendees got information about bands they were hearing, triggered by the band's music.

Than again, those wanting to receive these notifications had to download the application, whereas on the Sonic Notify website, the decision to transmit content seems to lie squarely in the hands of those deploying the ads. "Simply integrate our SDK into your platform, and your consumers don't have to do anything," says one message, touting the virtues of the product's non-consumer involvement. (Yikes.)

But as with most trends in advertising, if people get annoyed, it will go away. Remember when every product mascot from the Pillsbury Doughboy to Toucan Sam was rapping? This technology sounds like a very good candidate to test just how much mobile device intrusion the market will bear.

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