A recent marketing program set up by London based firm Renew was shut down, due to the controversy of the technology used. By installing new recycling bins around the city with the ability to grab a phone’s unique MAC address as people walk by, Renew became able to hyper-target ads. The incredibly smart bins are constantly on the lookout for devices with WIFI enabled and politely ask for identifying information from them.

This tracking information has a ton of marketing potential à la Minority Report. If you recall the futuristic movie complete with talking screens that called customers out by name, it was eye opening. Although many movie-goers may have found that experience quite jarring, there is no doubt that as marketers get even better at targeting customers strategies are heading in that direction.

The potential of the recycle bin project obviously lies in its ability to identify customers as they walk by the Orb (the quite ominous name of the piece of technology that reads mobile devices). It allows the bins, which are outfitted with electronic advertisement screens, to display highly targeted advertisements.

Marketing Scenario

Let’s say that last week you went to Starbucks and ordered a venti chai mocha. Remember that the Starbucks experience is now highly integrated with mobile devices – as people can keep their accounts on their phone and pay with just a few swipes. Now lets imagine it’s a rainy monday morning in London. You are walking past a smart recycle bin that is located conveniently near a Starbucks. The R2D2 like bin will sense you coming and identify your phone and be able to interface with the Starbucks platform, identifying your purchasing behavior. Upon your approach, the advertisement screen displays ads for venti chai mochas and gives directions to the nearest Starbucks. Targeted marketing at work can be quite convincing and perhaps scary.

Now this project has been shut down by the City of London, but I wonder how long one can hold back this advancement in technology. All the elements for this type of targeting are not really that advanced, they simply must be combined in the correct interface. Is this future really avoidable?