Startup Toovio offers “Minority Report”-type ad service for retailers

July 15, 2011

Big Brother has the capability to watch – and respond to – your every spending move. That’s the premise behind Toovio, a startup that has created technology to help retailers and other consumer-facing companies market personalized offers to their customers in real time.

Think of the scene in the film “Minority Report”, when Tom Cruise’s character is walking through a mall while his eyes are getting scanned and he is being bombarded by a slew of personalized 3D ads.

“We call it offer orchestration,” said Toovio’s CEO Josh Smith, 31, of the capabilities that allow companies to communicate custom offers over a range of channels that include checkout, website, kiosk and customer-service call centers.

“We have visibility into their (customers’) previous behavior,” he said. “There’s learning, based on whatever interaction is happening, and we’re getting smarter – hopefully driving revenue.”

Toovio, which already has a number of small to mid-sized companies in the U.S. and Europe using its technology, will next month test a service that takes advantage of mobile apps that consumers download on their smart phones.

The company, working with a hardware provider, will partner with retailers to position communication devices throughout their stores. The devices detect when a customer is approaching by way of the phone’s GPS and serve up a deal.

“As the consumer enters the field of vision of the device…it can message them,” said Smith, whose venture employs 15 in Tampa, Florida, and is targeting small to mid-sized companies. “It can actually be a dialogue, a full-blown Q&A, it could be HTML scripting, images, video. The content is very robust and it’s interactive.

“You’d literally walk into a store and they’d say, ‘Hey you bought this knit top last week, how about checking out these pants to go with it?,” said Smith, whose test will run in Minneapolis.

So is there a privacy concern about this type of aggressive marketing?

Smith said Toovio can side-step those regulatory worries by limiting offer personalization to amount of personal information consumers are willing to provide when they decide to download a specific company’s app on their phone.

“It depends on the terms and conditions you’re comfortable exposing,” he said.

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