Toyota Eye Tracking Experiment And the Ethics of AI

Toyota Eye Tracking Experiment

A few months ago, we shared thoughts on artificial intelligence in the marketing industry (Second Wind Magazine Summer 2017 issue). Since then, we’ve been keeping an eye on new ways AI is coming into use to improve customer touch points.

At the Dx3 conference in early in 2017, Toyota invited attendees to don eye-tracking software and explore their simulated showroom, including new Toyota vehicles, digital displays, tablets, a human-run information booth and promotional materials including print and TV. As people explored, Toyota gathered data on where people were looking, i.e., paying the most attention. Each participating attendee then sat for a short interview about which vehicle they were most interested in buying.

Toyota learned several things about customer behavior in the showroom setting, including the fact that few people bother to check under the hood—they focus on the interior and exterior. But they also learned that interactive displays such as touchscreens and information displays attract showroom visitors. Surprisingly, the print materials kiosk featuring vehicle safety info was the next most popular element in the showroom, possibly due to being centrally sited. Predictably, older attendees preferred printed and TV information, while younger people gravitated to digital/interactive kiosks.

This kind of technology experimentation is exactly what ad agencies should offer to help clients understand customer interactions. Whenever possible, we should provide data clients can use to get closer to customer behavior, motivations and responses to marketing and product offerings. As AI becomes more readily available, we need to consider possible applications in our strategic planning and research. Clients have embraced data as an essential element in marketing planning. Agencies must look for opportunities to integrate data collection and analysis to guide strategy and discover new insights.

Ethical Drawbacks to AI

As we utilize AI to learn more about customer behaviors, motivations and emotional connections, we need to remember that customers may be uncomfortable with advertisers collecting data and turning it around to manipulate them into buying products and services. Declining trust in industries and institutions means individuals are even less happy about advertisers tracking, analyzing and amassing details of every move we make, all with the goal of selling us more stuff. As Havas global brand director Jason Jercinovic told AdAge earlier this year, there is a fine line between persuasion and behavioral control. Jercinovic also raised the issue of increased moral responsibility on advertisers when deep individual customer knowledge could lead to manipulating people to buy products or services that are not in their best interest, or even actively negative for customers and their communities. 

For this reason, advertisers and clients need to tread carefully, guarding against the creepier aspects of data collection. Toyota used the DX3 conference to openly gain insights into showroom behaviors, without skulking around online or sneakily collecting data from smartphone apps. Transparency and consent have become important brand values in our data-mad era. Data collection and tracking need to be opt-in processes, with a clear exchange of value between the customer and a brand. What does each party gain? What does each surrender? Treat people like you care at least as much about their feelings and concerns as about the bottom line.

AI is going to be an essential business tool going forward, and agencies must seek ways to use AI to benefit their clients. But we also need to accept responsibility for setting ethical standards and practices before we apply AI to broader marketing purposes. 


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