Picture Power

GumGum Ed PreedyEd Preedy, MD Europe at GumGum, reflects on Google’s launch of its Allo messaging app.

What a summer it has been for image scientists. First, Facebook launched its image-recognition app, Moments. Second, it emerged that SnapChat had patented image-recognition technology. And just last week, Google entered the image science fray with its very own mobile messaging app, Allo.
Allo – replete with an array of functions, such as smart replies, drawing on images, stickers and group chat – was widely reported to be a direct challenge to Whatsapp as these tech giants increasingly find themselves in competition with one another over broadening and advancing ad revenue media.

On the face of it, Google’s Allo is simply just another tech company’s product aiming to muscle in on the territory in which image-based apps like SnapChat, Instagram and Pinterest have been extremely successful. But dig a little deeper, and you will see that Google has gone one step further than its competitors by incorporating image-recognition technology into apps to create contextually-relevant text-based, ‘smart replies’.

Allo will use its small – but mighty – image-recognition capabilities to analyse the images the user shares, saves and views across all Google platforms, apps and mobile devices, and these image-recognition capabilities will enable Allo’s chatbot to return a text-based, contextually-relevant mobile message.

Broader trend
This is all part of a much broader trend we’re seeing,where the internet becomes increasingly image-centric. Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are dabbling with other forms of image-first ways to engage consumers as they too throw their weight into the ‘imageification of digital’.

Google’s entrance into the image-recognition arena confirms that image-recognition has reached the tipping point – no longer will it be an add-on or a nice-to-have. It’s very much integrated both throughout Google’s platforms and in its business strategies.

You’d be forgiven for believing that image recognition is a recent and new thing, when in fact, it’s been around for quite some time. We at GumGum have been active in the image science sector for nearly a decade now – we’re even credited with inventing the in-image ad, a form of contextual advertising where specific images on a website are matched with relevant ads.

Allo’s integration of image recognition capabilities is exciting because it presents immense opportunities on which digital marketers can capitalise for a number of reasons. Firstly, with almost 2bn images shared daily on the internet (627bn a year), according to Mary Meeker, image-recognition clearly has a role here in expanding big data treasure troves – the new gold – that marketers use to improve the quality and relevance of ads that they expose a consumer to. Google and Facebook – among others – are well aware of this, hence these latest moves towards integrating image-recognition into their platforms. Google’s Allo is now another platform that unlocks the possibility of mining this treasure trove of image-related big data.

Secondly, the combined share of Google and Facebook’s globally-available ad inventory is staggering. 85 cents in every dollar spent on ads went to one of Google or Facebook during Q1 in 2016 in a sector predicted to be worth $542.6bn (£420bn) in 2016. This is an enormous market share – a near duopoly – that means that when these two fierce competitors open levees together, floods of opportunities for new ad revenue stream into new territory.

It’s no surprise too that Allo and its peers are focusing on developing and integrating their image-recognition capabilities on mobile and in messaging apps – mobile is simply more effective than desktop with higher consumer digital time spent and purchase intent, and messaging apps clock up 50bn messages daily, compared to 20bn texts.

One by one, the big, global tech players – who also own some of the biggest advertising platforms – are experimenting with image science, and the opportunities of the wider visual web, as the new medium of choice. In so doing, they’re not just propelling image-recognition to the mainstream, but also laying the groundwork for it to be the go-to marketing medium of choice – even if they don’t quite know it yet.

Ed Preedy is MD Europe at GumGum