London smart-ad detects viewers’ sex, not gender

Yesterday, CNN.com reported that a new London-based advertising campaign utilizes facial-recognition technology to detect a viewer’s sex, then tailors its marketing message accordingly.  Unfortunately, CNN actually mistakenly asserts that the gadget detects a person’s gender (and doesn’t say sex) but upon reading further, it becomes obvious what they are really talking about.  And it’s not gender.

From the article:

[The] bus-stop ad […] uses HD cameras to take photos of people who stand in front of the advertisement and, importantly, who chose to have their gender detected. A computer program then “measures the distance between your features, such as the length of your nose or the length of your jawline,” Williams says, and uses that data to determine, with 90% accuracy, whether you’re a man or a woman.

See?  They aren’t using facial-recognition technology to determine how someone feels on the inside, and they aren’t using their technology to detect markers of gender, such as cosmetics, hairstyle or plastic surgery.  This advertising campaign utilizes facial-recognition technology to isolate and evaluate known sex-based differences in the facial characteristics of female-bodied persons and male-bodied persons, and they get it right some 90% of the time.  There’s a reason for that.

What’s really interesting is that an advertising firm, surely based on butt-loads of data and studies of human behavior and preferences over time, decided to tailor its message based on a person’s sex, and not their gender, obviously believing that sex (and not gender) was the better predictor of a person’s preferences, susceptibility, mutability, and future behavior.  When it could’ve easily added another step to the identification process to identify gender, such as “male face but wearing makeup equals female” and then giving that viewer the message tailored to women, and not the one tailored to men.  But it didn’t.  There’s probably a reason for that too.

Women who walk up to the billboard, which is located at a London bus stop and will be viewable for two weeks, are greeted with a 40-second film explaining the plight of women and girls in poor countries around the world, who often are denied eduction and opportunities that are afforded to men.

Men, however, get a cut-down version of the content. They can’t see the film, but they do get to see shocking statistics about the situation, like the fact that 75 million girls are denied education.

Clearly, based on shitloads of human trials and studies that all advertisers worth their salt use in creating advertising campaigns, this firm decided, in essence, that whatever else “gender” might mean to anyone else, for their purposes “gender” is synonymous with “sex.”  Probably because sex determines needs and wants in many instances (such as the need for tampons…or predicting who might actually be willing to spend a full 40 seconds of their lives seeing a short film about sex discrimination against girls and women) and in all other instances, sex is synonymous with gender in any and all ways that matter to an advertiser, such as identity, relateability, values, beliefs, desires, susceptibility, mutability, and predicting future behavior.

And this probably also indicates the industry’s belief that this is largely unconscious, and cannot be changed, even if you really really want to, and even if you *think* you feel like the opposite sex, or *think* you have somehow managed to discard the trappings of the gender-role assigned to you at birth, based on the sex you were born with.  You haven’t.  Not in any way that matters to an advertiser, anyway.

The bottom line appears to be this: there are millions to be made in advertising, and the advertising industry has determined, based on extensive studies, that how a person feels inside, or how they would self-identify if anyone asked, really isn’t that relevant afterall.  And that this is definitely (particularly?) true in the current instance, where the goal of the advertising campaign is to raise awareness of and generate outrage relating to the plight of girls and women, around the world, and how men continue to benefit at women’s expense.  Gee, I wonder why?

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