Expedia’s New Hawaii Campaign With Disturbing Technology

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Just the thought of the tropical islands of Hawai’i makes me break out in a big goofy grin. Expedia seems to know that I am not the only one that loves Hawaii, and has a new marketing campaign to promote travel to the islands.

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“Discover Your Aloha” has a microsite where you are shown three guides: He’e the Octopus, Pua’a the Pig, or ‘Iwa the Bird. Fun!

I was all ready to click on one of the cute icons, but here’s where things got weird. Rather than simply choosing one of the fun guides to view one of the vacation packages, the site uses facial recognition software to measure your reaction to the video content in order to give you “customized” recommendations.

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After clicking the “Find your Aloha” button (and acknowledging that your webcam and smile will be used to personalize your itinerary), you continue to a page that reminds you that your facial responses will be measured.

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Maybe I’m the only one slightly creeped out by the idea that I’d be approving for some software to watch my expressions and then personalize data according to it. To me that is like personalized ads… times 10!

I was relieved to find that there was an option labeled “just play the video”. Even though I chosen that one, I remained (perhaps ever so slightly) paranoid and covered the camera of my laptop…just in case.

Watching some stunning scenery of the islands a calm almost swept over me like a lullaby. Almost. At the end of the video I was asked questions to gauge my interest in different activities, which I felt I had more control over than automated facial responses. I selected the “I Love It!” button every time and was then shown my guide, the He’e Octopus.

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Afterwards I was given lovely vacation activity recommendations that included whale watching, snorkeling, a dolphin swim, and a jungle expedition.

Going back to the start of the site, I repeated the process, this time choosing the “Not For Me” buttons instead. Interestingly, I received the exact same guide, and same recommended vacation options. I tried switching back and forth between answers, and finally got different guides.

I then tried the option with the webcam from the site beginning.

The next page gave me a disclaimer –

This program uses software to assess your face’s reaction to a video so we can determine which “guide” you might be – a bird, an octopus, or a boar. We do not store this data or use it in any way to identify you. The software is entirely machine based; no human reviews the “guide” webcam transmissions.
By clicking “I agree”, you consent to the facial analysis described above.

I watched the video, and at the end there were no questions since the software used my facial cues during the video. The software identified which footage evoked the most positive reaction from me during the video. My guide based on the algorithm? The Octopus again, with the same activity recommendations as when I’d simply manually responded.

So why the facial recognition? Why did Expedia go to all the trouble to hire digital agency Realise to create the high-tech campaign?

According to Expedia, the campaign targets consumers throughout the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The ad will be displayed on Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Orbitz.

Here’s the kicker.

The year-long campaign is designed to generate awareness and increase incremental demand to the Hawaiian Islands and uses innovative technology and inspirational content as a way to connect with travelers—especially [coveted] millennial audiences—while remaining competitive.

I am perhaps a bit more wary than some people about fingerprinting, customized ads, etc. I don’t at all care for the idea that a company would decide how to market to me based on my responses to a video. Plus, the recommendations made in exchange for allowing the facial recognition were rather disappointing. Based on my responses they thought I’d like snorkeling. Really? In Hawaii? I’d have expected more detailed information.

Some people might be really jazzed by this new technology. They might read this and eagerly go onto the site to see which cute animal guide they are matched up with, according to which nature scenes in the video they liked best. I am not a millennial though, so I’m not the ideal target anyhow. A generic millennial complaint I’ve heard in the past is that sometimes companies pretend to know them. Software like this might mean that companies wouldn’t be pretending after watching someone’s facial cues long enough.

This is the first campaign that I’ve come across that uses facial recognition software. I can’t say I am a fan and while I love the Hawaiian Islands I did not like the method of the campaign. I found it to be a little disturbing, but at least they gave the option not to have the facial recognition used.

If you want to try it out yourself, go to DiscoverYourAloha.expedia.com

Have you come across any other sites like this? Are you comfortable giving software like this the ok to track your facial responses?

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