Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Activation Proclamation

Susan Kuchinskas' article this week in iMedia Connection on location-based advertising spurred a few thoughts on the possibilities of media activation. It seems, in a really odd yet dynamic way, that we are headed for a reality in which real estate effectively plays a central role in building conversation and commerce like never before. Tony the Tiger's "Follow your nose, it always knows" will become something like "Follow your phone, the brand is throwing a stone". Sound a bit out there? Here are a few scenarios to ponder.

We can start by looking at how online utilities are creating new, portable "micro media" in airports, doctors' offices, restrooms, elevators, pizza shops, cars, service uniforms, people's name it. This is certainly not to say that just about anything and everything should be used for media placement. If I start seeing ads on status bars and embeddable banners, I think I am going to hurl. However, in organic consumer environments - places we frequent every day but don't necessarily spend "quality time" in - we have opportunities to engage in 1-1 conversations that are collaborative and unique.

Picture this: you and a friend are hanging out at the park and see a non-toxic "brand cloud" float by (yes, an actual cloud composed of vapor) that represents the image, and has the product info for, a new bike accessory kit. Okay, so you swipe at the thing, finding it intrusive and ridiculous, but your friend's brow raises because it just so happens that that he has his nephew's birthday coming up and has no clue what to get him. You can pretty much guess what happens next. Your friend enters the "x branded" community on his phone, gets immediate ratings and reviews on the product, finds another "friend" just a skip away in the park to talk to about it, then follows a microblog update to the nearest retail location. He even suggests a mashup for the product's utility and uploads a version of it. And the best part? You, the annoyed one, get to watch the cloud evaporate harmlessly into the atmosphere.

The ubiquitous web - in which reading, writing, publishing and now manufacturing are becoming the core drivers - is leading us into a state of transformational consumer experiences. In fact, we can look at ubiquity through the lens of retail distribution. Wal-Mart and Apple's partnership in selling discounted iPhones is a clear indication that inventory and price-point no longer decrease the equity value of a brand, but on the contrary, make it more accessible. Then there's the new iPhone app that Amazon is offering in which people can take photos of items they want to buy, store them in a shopping cart, and then reference Amazon's entire catalog of items to complete purchases with a single click, usually at a discount. What this tells us is that the same brand advocate can co-exist in different consumer environments without cannibalizing a product's scale or reach, and more importantly, there are a multitude of options with which to activate that advocate's purchase intent.

If we can rightfully assume that this advocate's information and experience sharing is seamlessly transferred and made contextually relevant to other experiences in the real world, what's to stop "offline" media from making a serious resurgence, and playing a vital new role, in activation? Think of things like digital billboards, magazine layouts, kiosks, OOH displays, mobile stations and interactive keypads feeding into a single focal point: you. Perhaps your "carrier" source is your phone or your PDA, but the point is that you provide sensory input that transforms a simple experience like walking through a retail store, or better yet an airport bathroom, into an incredible data exchange. And all this, without having to be bothered or intruded upon.

Brands can look at this as a means to constantly reinvent their positioning in a world that craves individualistic ideals within environments that, by default, look for the approval of crowds. Not only can they tap directly into relatable elements that can spawn real-time community involvement from a single person, but they can be influential at all times and in all places (well, just about). These spheres of influence are what build real advocacy and loyalty in a society that seems to be changing by the second.

Keep your eyes peeled for what's careening around the corner... 

No comments: