New Camera Offers Product Placement in Snapshots

Oct. 3, 2006
ROCHESTER–Eastman Kodak today announced availability of a line of free digital cameras developed in partnership with digital advertising giant DoubleClick. The cameras, to be distributed for free to consumers under the “Phreeto” brandname, generate revenue in the form of sponsored digital product placements powered by DoubleClick ad-targeting technology. “Phreeto means freedom,” explains Kodak Marketing Director Helmut Juice. “By working with DoubleClick to enable an ad-driven business model we’ll be able to offer digital photography solutions to a much wider audience.”

Featuring gigapixel resolution and a materials-based flex-polymer zoom, the Phreeto offers two modes: a ‘sponsored’ mode in which select products are digitally placed in the ‘image environment,’ and a ‘premium’ mode offering added features for a modest subscription fee. “The idea is to give people choice,” notes Juice. “Price-sensitive consumers will get access to good, standard, network-ready personal imaging equipment. Those interested in added functionality or in disabling product-placement will be able to unlock those features with a subscription key.”

Beta-testers of the camera report mixed experiences. Though the Phreeto is designed to unobtrusively integrate placed-products into images, some users have noted limits to its compositing and re-touching algorithms. “Most of the time it seemed to not do anything that interfered with the pictures I was taking,” notes one tester. “It would just put a can of Pepsi on a table in the background, or maybe it would change your coat into something from Tommy Hilfiger. I think I’ve even got a picture at the Eiffel Tower with a McDonald’s in the background that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist. Sometimes, though, it would freak out. I don’t know how many pictures I’ve got of a VW bug setting behind the Rockies.”

Other testers report problems with the targeting of product placements. The Phreeto is designed to exploit proprietary DoubleClick technology to place demographically-targeted products. Through analysis of the pictures users take coordinated with interaction with wireless servers housing databases of demographic and product information, the Phreeto selects user-appropriate products and collects fees from sponsors based on the demographic desirability of user profiles.

A number of testers, however, have reported embarrassing flaws in the targeting technology, including one user’s reports of pictures of “the stands at the Super Bowl, with everybody waiving boxes of tampons. In one picture my friend Joe is suddenly modeling some new Victoria’s Secret bra or something.”

Asked about flaws in the placement technology, Juice notes that the majority of the “kinks” reported by beta-testers had been addressed. “This is a first-generation product and there are bound to be some wrinkles to iron out,” he explains.

A number of activist and consumer privacy groups have expressed concern about the new camera. Reacting to news of the Phreeto, Jimmy Sale, director of the Product-Free Living Coaltion, bemoaned the “insidious invasion of technologies of memory by the artifacts of consumer culture. Personal, domestic photography is intimately bound up with both memory and nostalgia. By invading our snapshots, these products will begin to invade our memories.”

Other critics concede Kodak’s ingenuity. “It’s really quite clever if you think about it,” notes Columbia University Professor Carla Kin. “It’s all based on the simple insight that consumer photography is a medium just like any other, and, just like radio, just like TV, it may be amenable to exploitation by advertisers.”

Available in markets with 5.F wireless networks, the Phreeto comes in three eye-catching colors: cobalt, vermilion, and asphalt, and in three aromas: jasmine, oatmeal, and patchouli.