It’s been nearly 14 years since Spielberg’s sci-fi blockbuster about a precognitive crime-prevention police unit burst onto theatre screens around the world. A most original plot about cops who can arrest criminals just before they commit the actual crime, saving lives and transforming law enforcement in the process. What’s not to like?
What astonishes me is just how many other passionate conversations, references and debates this storyline has ignited – which are still raging today, 14 years later. The movie became possibly the most prophetic piece of storytelling I have ever encountered – with precise correlation to the comparatively understated world of media and advertising.
First of all, the whole film seems to be a shout-out to the outdoor media industry. Throughout the story, protagonist John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is constantly confronted with “space age” billboards and digital advertisements that do all kinds of futuristic things like animate, show personalized content and respond to his presence. Fast forward to 2016, well all of these things are not very futuristic at all. In fact, for a movie set in 2054, we are a whopping 38 years ahead of schedule.
Remember the unforgettable scenes where Tom waves his hands in the air and the digital content on the screen magically shifts and sorts – without any physical contact whatsoever. Small glowing sensors on his fingers appear to connect to the screen to allow interaction with the content – but in 2016 we’ve done one better by not even needing the sensors. With technology like Microsoft Kinect, we can achieve this with our bare hands.
You might remember also when Tom walks by some screens, they are able to identify him by his retinas and then show content that is relevant only to him. This inspired a generation of outdoor media enthusiasts, and ever since we’ve been figuring out ways to detect the presence of a consumer and deliver them personalized content.
In 2054, the privacy lobby has clearly lost their battle and people appear to have resigned themselves to their identity being owned by the government and corporations. In my view, current privacy sensitivities are the only reason why your retinas are not being scanned when you walk through doors – and nothing to do with lack of available technology. Don’t worry, there are beacons and other signals that can detect your identity via mobile phone and deliver personalized content to screens – we can read your retinas later. Outdoor media 1 – Privacy 0
There’s the great scene where Tom is shown precise ads that make sense for him, and they even call him out by name. The ability to plan outdoor media based on the kinds of audiences that are present in those areas, even at different times of day, is now possible and consumers will see digital content that matters to them more and more. Relevant ads are powerful ads, and its great that we don’t need to wait another 38 years for this to become a reality.
Don’t forget the holograms. Tom is reminded of his tragic past with home movies that come to life in his living room. This, too, has become a reality since the movie was released. In fact, today’s holograms are even better. The ones in the film are not perfectly 3D, acting rather as flat projections on an invisible plane. Today you can encircle the subject and see behind them.
So you see, Minority Report is the Godfather or Citizen Kane of the outdoor advertising industry. The ideas explored in the film probably inspired a generation of marketers to embrace the possibilities of technology and media, and may have even given rise to many of the most impressive developments we have seen in the past few years. It’s time we gave Stephen Spielberg, and more so original author Philip K. Dick, some serious kudos for their part in making outdoor advertising the most evocative, engaging and – at times – controversial medium that exists in media today.