Piccadilly Circus has started using hidden cameras to target ads

The lights are back on at Piccadilly Circus, after nine months of renovations. The new billboard uses recognition technology to target ads to passers-by.

The new screen is 4K enabled and is the largest in Europe, measuring 780 square metres, or 8,400 square feet. The billboard’s content will be “influenced by the characteristics of the crowd around it” said owner Land Securities, or Landsec. 

“It is also able to respond and deliver bespoke ad content triggered by surroundings in the area”, the company added. This will depend on the gender, age group and the emotions displayed by those passing by.

It will use hidden cameras to identify and analyse these characteristics about the people passing by, but the company says no data will be stored. The screen is made up of LED panels, and has been since 2011. These panels are expected to last about ten more years, now that a cradle has been installed on the roof of the building, to clean and maintain the screen. 

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About 100 million people pass the landmark billboard each year, and space on the screen sells for £4 million a year.

Six advertisers are sharing the space, according to Landsec, and the content will also respond to the environment as well as the people in the crowd. For example, if the temperatures drop enough, the adverts will switch to winter clothing adverts rather than summer ones.

The screen first lit up in 1908, when Perrier was advertised with neon lamps. With the re-lighting this week, Coca Cola was the first brand to be showcased – it has featured on the billboard since 1954. 

New advertisers include companies like Groupon, who ran a competition last year to dedicate one of the boards to helping single people find love. The company threatened to show the faces of passers-by who tweeted a specific hashtag.  

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