Yes, That Billboard Is Talking To You

"Minority Report" isn't sci-fi. Like the futuristic mall displays that recognize consumers and ask them about their recent purchases, electronic billboards created for Mini Cooper are now personally addressing Mini Cooper drivers by name in Chicago, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

The Motorby system to build consumer loyalty is made possible by a small computer chip embedded in the key fobs of more than 1,000 volunteers. The chip can be detected at distances up to 500 feet by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, which triggers a computer to find a driver-appropriate message to display on the LED board.

These messages are personalized using Mini USA's database of driver information. For example, a message might make a tongue-in-cheek reference to a driver's job or wish him a happy birthday. Messages are also selected according to factors like geographic location and time of day.

The idea is the brainchild of San Francisco ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners. "This is the ultimate one-to-one creative execution... Each owner in the Mini community is unique," says Executive Creative Director John Butler, "and they deserve messaging custom-tailored to their interests and passions."

Kate Alini, marketing communications manager of Mini USA, explained that the visibility of the inside joke is part of the intended effect. "Even though the messages are individually personalized," she says, "we still expect them to elicit more than a few smiles from all motorists who witness the Motorboards."

This isn't the first time that advertisers have created proactive billboards.

In 2005, a British company, Filter UK, introduced Bluetooth-based BlueCasting technology that allows transmitters in billboards to beam downloadable clips to passersby with cell phones and PDAs. Maiden, a British outdoor ad company, has rolled out a number of BlueCasting billboards around the United Kingdom.

More recently, CBS began using Bluetooth-enabled billboards in the United States to promote its 2006 fall TV lineup. However, the Mini may be the first time billboards have addressed passers-by personally.

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