PreCrime captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise) entered a building and was immediately recognized by special sensors that operated giant digital advertisement billboards. He was greeted by personalized ads that were screaming for his attention:

“The road you’re on, John Anderton, is the one less traveled.”

“Good evening, John Anderton.”

“John Anderton!”

“You could use a Guinness right about now.”

“Stressed out, John Anderton?”

“Get away, John Anderton. Forget your troubles.”

Personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)
Personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)

Minority Report is American neo-noir science fiction mystery-thriller film from 2002 that is set in the year 2054. The movie is loosely based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.

Tom Cruise is captain Anderton, a prominent member of “PreCrime”, a specialized police department, that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “precogs”. Precogs are mutated foresighted humans, stored in a special chamber where they experience precognitive visions and PreCrime is designed to stop murders before they happen, deploying the police force and arresting future murderers.

Personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)
Personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)

Personalized ads and recommendations

I couldn’t say that back in 2002 the aforementioned scene with personalized ads was notorious; it did however raise some thoughts about the future of advertising, media and product placement.

“The whole idea was that the ads would not only recognize you, but also your state of mind,” said Jeff Boortz, a consultant on the film for Wired.

Let’s fast forward to the year 2015. Thankfully we don’t live in a world of precogs and precrimes like you can see on these films about psychics, although we could experience marketing and sales efforts in personalized offers and even ads.

Wired also stated that Amazon and Google have long been reading our searches and helpfully suggesting products we might like to buy. That kind of personalized shopping can be applied to Netflix and other similar online stores.

When talking about Amazon, you can’t really compare recommended products in online store (based on your searching or buying behavior) with personalized ads. Customers that enter a brick & mortar store or visit an online store are in a different stage of their consumer decision journey than for example people on the bus or in the car, people reading newspapers or magazines, …

Recommendations on Amazon.com
Recommendations on Amazon.com

Remarketing

However, there is a marketing tool that slightly resembles personalized ads from Minority Report. It is called remarketing (or retargeting). Google describes remarketing as a tool that lets you show ads to people who have visited your website or used your mobile app before. When people leave your website without buying anything, for example, remarketing helps you reconnect with them by showing relevant ads as they browse the web, as they use mobile apps, or as they search on Google.

How remarketing works in real life?

Recently I’ve visited websites of two brands/products that I knew that use remarketing. First I visited an airline operator and checked ticket prices for a return flight from Amsterdam to Chicago. Then I googled Chicago City Pass and visited Citypass.com/chicago.

My next steps were nothing special. I checked ESPN.com and Football365.com, websites that I visit quite frequently. Soon I saw a small ad for KLM and a banner for Chicago City Pass.

KLM remarketing banner ad on ESPN.com
KLM remarketing banner ad on ESPN.com

Chicago City Pass remarketing banner ad on Football365.com
Chicago City Pass remarketing banner ad on Football365.com

Consumer decision journey

How successful is remarketing? Well, it depends on the consumer decision journey.

Traditionally marketers have long used the funnel metaphor to think about touch points: your typical consumer would start his or her buying process at the wide end of the funnel with many brands in mind and then gradually narrow them down to a final choice.

Traditional funnel
Traditional funnel

In 2009 McKinsey introduced a different view of how consumers engage with brands: the “consumer decision journey”. Their research revealed that consumers today take a much more iterative and less reductive journey of four stages:

  1. consider
  2. evaluate
  3. buy
  4. enjoy, advocate and bond.
McKinsey's funnel
McKinsey’s funnel

When you visit certain website you can be in various stages of you decision journey. In my case I was in a stage of consideration (even though it was just for the sake of this blog post) and both brands started with remarketing i.e. they tried to move me to the phase of evaluation or even into buying phase. Their efforts were unsuccessful, but in some other cases that might not be true. A couple of years ago I flew with KLM to Chicago and I got the same experience: after I bought plane tickets and visited City Pass website I saw a lot of banners for Chicago’s City Pass. I didn’t buy it but they made an effort.

Guinness personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)
Guinness personalized ads in Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox, screen capture)

Remarketing can be a very successful tool; however it has to target the right people at the right/proper time with the right message and at the right stage in person’s decision journey. There is also an issue with the congested ad space and banner blindness.

If we pull some parallels between personalized ads seen in Minority Report and remarketing, we could say that Tom Cruise experienced some sort of remarketing, but in a physical (and public) space, not online.

Personalized ads in Minority report could still be an interesting topic for a debate, but physical (or public) space has one big limitation: you have to be alone to be able to receive a personalized message. I’m sure writers and producers didn’t put as much emphasis into presentation those ads as you may want them to do, but movies sometimes give us just raw ideas what the future might bring. Think for example about hoover boards, Nike sneakers or mini pizzas from Back to the Future 2.