Marketers have been so focused on conquering digital media and learning how to manage social media that they can be forgiven if they missed the new technology advances in a well-known traditional media format: billboards. Consumers and marketers are  well aware of the new digital display and video capabilities of billboards. But there are new technologies driving billboard advertising that can help marketers more effectively reach consumers.

Last fall, sign company NEC began installing software that is capable of recognizing faces of people who look at billboards. (The technology is already being used in Japan.) To date, major U.S. cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York boast having billboards with this new technology. As consumers walk by one of these billboards, an advertiser’s message can target an individual. The camera inside the billboard transmits an image of the consumer’s face. Then, the software controlling the ad queue would present a context-specific ad. For example, a young child might see an ad for an amusement park while a mom might see an ad about a spa.

Ad agencies and marketers are preparing campaigns that will appear on these billboards. Jonathan Nelson, chief executive at Omnicom Digital, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc., New York says the technology recognizes faces, even a raised eyebrow. As a result, he says, “We’re exploring the applications, and they are endless.”

This technology is largely experimental as marketers determine the best uses and ways to deliver custom ad content. But the field is promising. Large technology players have filed patents related to this process. For example, the patent filed by Research in Motion is for an “adaptive roadside billboard system and related methods.”

It’s too soon to tell whether marketers will find value in this offering and whether the technology will prove adept enough to accurately deliver promotions. Like most new inventions, it may take time to iron out the wrinkles. But before long, marketers may have another tool to add to their advertising arsenal.

[Sources: Nosowitz, Dan. The BlackBerry Billboard. Fastcompany.com. 7 Sep. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2011; Couch, Christina. Sign Language. Hemispheresmagazine.com. Aug. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2011; Steel, Emily. The Billboard that Knows. Online,wsj.com. 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2011]