Robert Clark
Oct 6, 2014

Wearable devices: The next great frontier

Privacy issues aside, gold mine of data from personal, GPS-linked gadgets may forge a brave new world of targeted marketing.

Metalworks’ Provolv sensor aims to tap into 50 million cricket players
Metalworks’ Provolv sensor aims to tap into 50 million cricket players

For once the buildup is probably right. We stand at the edge of a hyper-connected, ultra-targeted era in digital marketing. Wearables are the key. 

For now this fast-emerging category is confined mostly to health and fitness, and includes external devices such as smart watches, fitness bands and Google Glass, and less-visible tech such as sensors in shoes and clothing. 

But even in these early days most marketers cite two basic rules: it’s about the platform and not the device; and it’s about long-term marketing rather than advertising. 

The small screen-size limits the type and volume of brand communications, points out Josh Gallagher, regional strategy director for Havas Media. Plus, consumers will likely accept only certain types of messages on these very personal devices.

Gallagher recalls that mobile advertising has gone through years of evolution and expects a similarly steep learning curve for wearables. But the nature and role of the devices suggest that it’s better “to embrace the long-term perspective, where you can do lifecycle marketing”. 

SEE ALSO: Marketers need to think bigger than the Apple Watch

Chad Stoller, managing partner for IPG Media Brands, agrees that the devices themselves have limited advertising potential. But the marketing opportunity is in the data that is becoming available, and the ability to “create experiences which are enhanced because of wearables”.

Agencies recognise the opportunity. Mindshare has established a wearables division, Life Plus, and struck a deal with the website MapMyFitness, recently acquired by sports brand Under Armour.

James Chandler, Mindshare’s global mobile director, says wearables “allow us as an agency to do incredibly targeted things around context and location”. 

“We will have actual data about the person,” he says. The combination of wearable sensors, connectivity and GPS make the user’s current physical condition, location, activity and mood knowable. “We got very interested in MapMyFitness because they aggregate lots of data from lots of data sources — Nike Plus, Jawbone, Fitbit, Garmin.”

With access to the aggregated data on a platform such as that, a brand could know if a user is, say, at her Thursday night yoga class or her regular bike ride and pitch messages to her accordingly. The elephant in the room is privacy. Pretty obviously, none of this is going to work if brands and agencies can’t get the privacy balance right. 

“When the communication is so personal and it’s so close to you, we need to be ultra careful,” says Chandler, citing email as an example of a marketing channel gone wrong.  But he thinks text messaging is still viable because of the strictly-enforced policies based around user consent. 

“It’s very crucial the user is in control,” he says. “Consumers need to trust the brand, and it must be clear to them what the brand gets to see.”

While health and wellness are top-of-mind for agencies right now, other categories are also opening up. Gallagher identified music as a likely segment, citing Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats and the launch of Beats Music. 

IPG’s Stoller points to movies and entertainment. “You can create challenges that people can participate in, such as a campaign for the launch of a movie,” he says. Despite the focus being on platform, that doesn’t mean the devices aren’t critical. Stoller predicts a “battle for the wrist”. 

“The end commodity is going to be wrist-space,” he observes. Low-end watches have been supplanted by cellphones, but luxury watch wearers won’t be satisfied with a plain rubber bracelet. “So are men going to wear a watch on one wrist and a tracker on the other?”

Our view: Brands may be lagging behind the agencies on this but media mixes that involve wearables can’t be far away. 

Got something to add? Please write to [email protected]

CASE STUDY: Metalworks takes a swing at cricket

Cricket is the world’s second most popular sport, with 50 million players, mostly in India and Pakistan.

But marketers have “cricket blindness”—akin to Nascar blindness—according to Metalworks technology director Tom Kelshaw, and they’re missing huge opportunities.

That’s why Metalworks has spent more than two years working on Provolv, a system that tracks cricket performance. It involves a sensor on the back of the bat or the pads connected to a mobile app, allowing players to compare their statistics via social media.

Cricket is a US$2.1 billion global market, but it is “pretty locked out” by a few brands and broadcasters, Kelshaw says. Provolv aims to help brands “associate with cricket and to engage directly with millions of players”.

Metalworks is also developing sensors for surfing and snowboarding. Wearables for these sports exist, but the sensors are attached to the wetsuit or snow gear; Metalworks plans to put Provolv on the actual boards themselves.

“Surfers don’t want to know that their arms are flailing,” Kelshaw says. “They want to know what the surfboard is doing in the water.”


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