Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I spy with my dummy little eye

Somehow, I missed the news last November about the mannequin spies, but I’m making up for lost time now.

At first, I thought they were talking about surveillance dummies on the lookout for shoplifters, but, no, these dummies serve a higher purpose.

Fashion brands are deploying mannequins equipped with technology used to identify criminals at airports to watch over shoppers in their stores. Retailers are introducing the EyeSee, sold by Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA, to glean data on customers much as online merchants are able to do.

Five companies are using a total of “a few dozen” of the mannequins with orders for at least that many more, Almax Chief Executive Officer Max Catanese said. The 4,000-euro ($5,130) device has spurred shops to adjust window displays, store layouts and promotions to keep consumers walking in the door and spending…

To give the EyeSee ears as well as eyes, Almax is testing technology that recognizes words to allow retailers to eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequin’s attire. Catanese says the company also plans to add screens next to the dummies to prompt customers about products relevant to their profile, much like cookies and pop-up ads on a website.  (Source: Business Week.)

So, bad enough they have dummies watching us, they’re listening in on our conversations, too.

Not that I have all that much to worry about. After all, if you take away AARP and Centrum Silver, I’m no one’s idea of the ideal demographic.  I can’t imagine Talbot’s is going to spend $5K to try to figure out whether I’m going to take the navy turtleneck, the teal turtleneck, or both.

And that name EyeSee? A little too much “I see, said the blind man, but he didn’t see at all” to my way of thinking.

This story, of course, raises all sorts of questions. I won’t even bother with the invasion of the privacy snatcher ones.

My burning question is: when did the French-ified word mannequin replace the less genteel manikin? And when did manikin replace the word dummy, which was what these folks(?) were called in my long-ago youth.

Is dummy a pejorative? Is it non PC? Is it possible to insult an inanimate object? (Or what used to be an inanimate object.)

Whatever they were called, the dummies of my youth were nowhere near as smart as those of today. Nor were they as “real” looking.

Dummies back then were all this kind of pinky-beige color, more beige than pink, and just a shade darker than the decidedly non-inclusive Crayola color “flesh.” The female of the dummy species were all blonde, if painted on butter-cup yellow can be said to be blonde. They all had blue eyes, too. The male dummies – man and boy a like – had medium brown hair, and medium brown eyes. To me, they all looked like Protestants, and they all seemed to be stuck in amber. They all had the look and feel of having been produced in 1946, when the good old U.S. of A. got back into manufacturing all the goods we’d been deprived of during Big W-W-II.

Dummies were, I believe, made out of plaster, as I seem to recall some low-rent Worcester department store with a dummy with a broken wrist, exposing its chalky white innards and metal rod bone.

In any event, the dummies I grew up with were a far cry from the pricey – and diverse – mannequins from Almax. Sure, they make blondes. But they also make dark-haired beauties, which, while you can’t exactly say look real, look more real than mannequins did when they were known as dummies. One thing that’s stayed constant: they all look bored. Maybe the ones that see and hear will perk up a tad now that there’s something going on in their heads.

What’s going on in their heads is software and sensor-driven:

This software analyzes the facial features of people passing through the front and provides statistical and contextual information useful to the development of targeted marketing strategies. (Source: Almax)

I’m a marketer, and I’m all over targeted marketing strategies. But in this context, are there three more dreaded words in the English language?

I don’t even like it when Amazon suggests a book.

Almax, by the way offers about 800 different models, “variously sized and positioned, representing various ethnic and physical features, with more than 1,500 realistic, stylized and semi-abstract heads.”

Good to hear, given that variety – and the availability of the semi-abstract head – is the spice of life.

After reading up on them, I thought it would be good to take a quick, haphazard inventory of mannequins while strolling around Boston on Sunday (enjoying the beautiful weather and the blessedly large crowds).

Neiman Marcus has “real” dummies, but a lot of stores seem to have dummies without heads (semi-abstract or otherwise).

Then there was this rather interesting mannequinShark Blog, which I spied with my very own eyes on Newbury Street. I was relieved that it was headless, eyeless, and earless and, thus, could not be checking me out. But then it occurred to me that the shark might be so armed.

Far more disturbing – with or without sensors and software – was the mannequin next door to son-of-Jaws.

I had to press my nose up to the window to see that those were, indeed, exposed ribs and not shadows. What’s the message here? Anorexia or bust? Anorexia or no bust? Very disturbing.

Newbury Dummy

Not that I’d want it spaying or listening in on me, but give me this statuesque Swedish dummy, any old day.


Look like anyone you know?

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