Wristbands Monitor Audience Emotions at Cannes Lions Conference

20140619-cannes-lions-nds-009Once upon a time, wristbands (i.e., watches) only told time. They did not measure miles run or walked. They did not monitor the user’s heart rate, blood pressure, or any other biological function. They certainly did not measure emotion. But since the invention of the first wristwatch, we have made even more useful wristbands–fitness bracelets come to mind. Until this year, however, we have not had a wristband to tell us how we’re feeling.

Today at the Cannes Lions conference, advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi held its New Directors’ Showcase. For over two decades, the company has presented the work of new directors in an hour-long reel, but 2014’s showcase “Feel the Reel” had a twist. Saatchi & Saatchi incorporated Studio XO’s biosensor wristbands into the experience.

Audience members wore the sensor bands, and the LEDs in the wristband glowed blue, green, red, or magenta, with blue and green indicating less excitement, red and magenta indicating more. The feelings indicated by the wristband were shared on both an individual and a collective level. An audience member could look at their neighbor’s wristband and see from its color how the person was reacting. Data collected from the wristbands was fed into computer animation technology that showed how the audience collectively reacted to what was happening onscreen. Where there is usually a separation of audience from onscreen action, there was none. The audience’s reaction to the reel was part of the show. As Studio XO co-founder Nancy Tilbury said, “We’re breaking down the fourth wall.”

20140619-cannes-lions-nds-014Is that really a good thing? Tilbury seems to think so:

“Today, we know where we’re taking photos, but we don’t know how we feel…The medium-term application of this technology is to use it in closed environments like stadiums and cinemas. The longer-term is aim is much more interesting: to add a sensor layer to your life. You come home at the end of the day and you see a map of how you were feeling in different locations. You learn about your own human biological patterns, not just how many steps you took or calories you burned.”

There could be good things about this technology. It can benefit hospital patients who do not have the physical ability to verbalize their feelings. It can benefit elementary and middle school teachers by showing them how engaged their students are.

There is more to the story than that, though. Emotions are a very personal phenomenon, and sharing them is not easy or even desirable for most people. Advertising companies can take advantage of the data provided by mass produced bio- and neurological function sensing technology. So can social networking. So can total strangers. While there are benefits to this technology, there is a huge ethical responsibility that comes with them. Whether or not companies and consumers are ready for that is the real question here.