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Ads underfoot

Posted By Tania Hershman On March 5, 2006 @ 2:00 am In | No Comments

Eyeclick turns advertisements into interactive environments. If you thought there were commercials everywhere already, watch where you walk next time you go to the mall – they’re under your feet now too. Israeli company EyeClick combines rich media with motion sensors to get potential customers interacting with promotional advertisements on the floors of shopping malls, airports, banks – anywhere, in fact, with lots of eyeballs and a few square feet of space.

Tel Aviv-based EyeClick, which was established in 2003 by artist and software engineer Ariel Almos, the company’s CEO, is built around Almos’ final year project as a student at Tel Aviv’s Camera Obscura School of Art. He created a floor-based version of the simple Pong game which veteran computer users will remember from early PCs, involving a ball and two rectangles as bats.

“I tried to design a different interface for the game with human movements,” says Almos, who also lectures in interactive media at several art schools in Israel. His installation, a Pong game for five players who chase different-colored bats around the image projected on the floor trying to hit the ball, has been exhibited in various Israeli museums. Motion sensors follow the players’ movements so that when they swing their foot the “bat” moves and “hits” the “ball,” which rebounds as it would in the computer game.

Almos, who served in one of the prestigious technology units in the Israeli Defense Forces, is not only an artist but a businessman: “I soon realized that there was a commercial opportunity here and started working on it,” he says. “People started suggesting that I sell this for advertising. In the ad world, they need a new medium.”

Television, radio and newspapers, the traditional venues for commercials, are not as effective as they once were, he says, given the emergence of the Internet and a huge increase in the number of TV and radio channels, all of which dilute the potential audience for each particular commercial. “People don’t notice these commercials anymore, they are so used to them,” he says, and this, in conjunction with the new technologies – such as Tivo, which digitally records television programs and allows users to skip the commercials – leads to the need for new approaches.

“Advertisers are looking more and more for options to create an emotional experience for people,” says Almos, and this is what EyeClick aims to do. “It is said that 55 percent of buying decisions are made in the street or the shopping mall. We combine interactivity, an emotional experience, and we are right at the places of entertainment and shopping, where people are open to new experiences.”

EyeClick’s first advertising campaign was for Milki, a chocolate dessert produced by Israeli dairy Strauss. The promotion, which was part of a campaign which included television and radio commercials, ran for a week in December in five shopping malls across Israel during Chanukah, the Jewish festival associated with sweet foods, and got mall visitors chasing a spoonful of Milki around the floor in the centre of the shopping mall. “It was just for fun and promotion,” says Almos. “Strauss was very happy with it.”

As well as the novelty value of floor-based, interactive ads, EyeClick – whose all-weather, outdoor and indoor MotionAware system combining projector, motion sensors and proprietary software, is installed on the ceiling or a wall at any height and can project onto any surface – offers an added benefit. “We can count people,” explains Almos, and not just the number of people who interact with the ad, but also the people standing around watching, up to an area of roughly ten feet by ten feet. So, as with many Web-based ads, a company can get a precise idea of how many eyeballs the ad attracted.

EyeClick has three products based on their MotionAware technology: one for interactive retails displays, which could be in store windows or on walls as well as the floor; one for trade shows and other promotional events; and a product for advertising in large spaces such as shopping malls, airports, train stations, and cinema complexes. The trade show product has been used by clients such as Microsoft Israel and Volvo, and the product for large spaces, which was launched in October, has featured in campaigns by Israeli food company Osem and Coca Cola Israel.

UK-based Barclays Bank installed the system in its Madrid branch in Spain in January. “Barclays gave us the graphic and we designed the promotion,” explains Almos, who demonstrates by standing on a map of the world with the words “Barclays Bank” and a slogan in Spanish. Stand on different countries on the map and a wave of blue with white stars washes over the country underfoot. Barclays are considering using the system in other branches, he says.

Almos, who worked for various technology companies in Israel including telecommunications company Comverse and Quiver, a Web bookmark-sharing start-up established by his former army commander and later sold to Inktomi for $12 million, set up EyeClick with $250,000 of his own and several hundred thousand dollars in funding from private investors. EyeClick does not sell directly to clients but rather through distributors such as advertising and marketing agencies, who offer EyeClick as one component of a larger ad campaign. Almos, who has already lined up distributors in Spain, Belgium, New Zealand and South Africa, is in touch with several potential distributors in the US and hopes to enter the US market shortly.

EyeClick, which has ten employees, including two PhDs in the field of machine vision from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and is looking to recruit more, is not just a technology provider: the company will design the interactive ads in conjunction with the client, creating graphics or incorporating the images being used in ads in other media. The cost of a system installed in a shopping centre for a week, for example, will start at around $5000.

EyeClick has a few competitors worldwide, including Californian company Reactrix and the German Blueplot, but Almos claims that the fact that his system uses off-the-shelf components which means it is cheaper to produce and to maintain, and also its support for many graphics formats such as the popular Macromedia Flash, which can be easily integrated into EyeClick’s technology, differentiates his company from the rest.

Soccer is the company’s current focus: as the World Cup approaches, Almos will be wooing clients, primarily in soccer-mad Europe, with EyeClick’s floor soccer game, a rather addictive promotion where two players – or one player against the computer – stand on a virtual soccer field with ads around the perimeter and kick a ball, which can also feature ads, back and forth. So, as Yeats might have said, next time you visit a movie multiplex cinema or shopping mall, tread softly for you may be treading on an ad agency’s floor-based promotional dream.

(See Exclusive video report on Eyeclick from IsraelHighTech.TV).

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