The road you are on is the one less travelled

How Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report turned into a marketing reality

It is now 16 years old but the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise as John Anderton, the Chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in Washington DC in the year 2054, is still highly relevant today for its vast range of Things To Come-type technologies.

It’s a clever idea, based on a short story by Philip K Dick, that centres around the department – which, thanks to three psychics, can predict when, where and by whom all future murders are going to take place. The cops, led by Anderton, swoop down from above, sirens blaring, to catch murderers before they've even murdered anyone…

The story itself soon follows a standard Hollywood trajectory, with the tables turned on Anderton as he is seen by the psychics – or ‘Precogs’, as they are known – murdering a man in a hotel room.

Anderton has only 36 hours to get to the bottom of this, and it turns out that the man he does kill is connected to the disappearance of his son six years before. There is a moral battle here between free will and pre-determination, but let’s not get too bogged down in that one.

What really stands out from the film, and why it is still a must for businesses interested in the development of future technologies and marketers/advertisers keen to see how their professions evolve, are the visions of the future city.

We have driverless vehicles travelling at high speed both horizontally and vertically, there is facial recognition technology and voice instructions to light up and power devices at home.

Print newspaper pages are instantly uploaded with breaking news and weather forecasts.

There are car factories full of automated robots but instead of workers, and there is a clear divide between the richest in society and the poorest living in crumbling apartment blocks.

From a marketing perspective, the richest content is when Anderton walks through a busy shopping mall. There is a moving advert for a Lexus car, which – as soon as Anderton passes it by – uses facial recognition to say: “The road you are on, John Anderton, is the one less travelled.”

He walks on and receives more personalised messages from other moving billboards. They all know his name and his likes. “You could use a Guinness right now, John,” says one, unfortunately not in an Irish accent.

Another advert appears to sense Anderton’s cloudy mood suggesting a beautiful sunny holiday, so he can “forget his troubles”. Adverts and marketing messages also run over sides of escalators and on brick walls as people pass by. It feels very claustrophobic, and – for something so personalised – very impersonal. But 16 years on, we are closer to all this becoming reality.

Marketers and advertisers are using data to personalise offers, rewards and campaigns. What is interesting, though is that in 2018 that personalisation is being driven by the ubiquitous use of smartphones in our society. Yet, in Minority Report, the vision of the future, our potential reality – not a single person has a phone in their hand.