The Data of Things: Bringing Viewability and Engagement to the Real World

As of late, viewability has been a hot topic in the industry. And it certainly is not without good reason – why would advertisers pay for placements that are never shown if the technology is there to tell them the ads haven’t been shown? You can still hardly talk about display advertising without a horde of different opinions, but if I personally cannot remember the last banner I looked at (and I’ll be generous and say I notice one about every 3 days), then why do we expect banners to be remotely effective with banner blindness, bots AND viewability working against us? At least fix the easy one.

From what I’ve noticed, online display advertising has come to be so highly demanded a product not simply for its scale, but also largely for its remarkable data. Rightfully so. The ability to target the right audiences, retarget our best customers, and learn which half of our advertising is working through clicks, engagement and conversion metrics has added the greatest value to the industry yet. But there’s an even more intriguing prospect in the future of engagement and viewability – and and it’s bringing it into the real world.

Not too long ago Google patented “gaze tracking” for its pet project, Glass. Essentially, advertisers may eventually be able to use Google’s eye sensors as a perennial eye tracking system integrated into everyday life – no focus groups necessary. Was your billboard in-sight, noticed or even interacted with in Times Square? Was your TV spot watched, or did the viewer change the channel or skip the ads altogether? Like impressions, TV ratings and magazine circulations have never equaled views either. However, as with increasing demands for viewability and engagement in online display advertising, soon we may have the technology to start holding our traditional advertising accountable to better metrics, too.

Google Glass

With the idea of eye-tracking disseminated into the mainstream, the possibilities for measurement and better insights are absolutely enormous. Tracking could extend in-store to reveal what products are being considered and what displays are effective. It could finally bridge the user journey from the digital to the real world, answering the ever-frustrating question, did your impression lead to an in-store sale? Ultimately, Glass could track attention in its entirety, bringing a whole new meaning to the idea of advertisers vying for people’s “eyeballs.”

On top of it all, Glass could add mounds of engagement. Just this week Google filed another patent for a heart hand gesture, suggesting the technology may eventually be able to “like” content or objects by recognizing specific signs, such as a heart symbol. Such augmented reality could eventually allow us to use our fingers to “click” on in-sight advertisements for more information and content extras, or even allow us to shortlist the items right in front of us in a store. Considering its acquisition of gestural technology company Flutter last week, could we start to see interacting in an augmented reality via Google Glass even sooner than we expected?

Of course there are entire novels of privacy concerns that such new technology will confront.  Just today the EU moved to create stricter privacy measures in the wake of the Snowden/NSA scandal. Yet at the end of the day, the biggest question of all still remains, will it ever even catch on?

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The Advertising of Things: Behind the Name

We’ve come up with a curious phrase to describe today’s incessant digitization of everyday objects, and we call it “The Internet of Things.” Well, just as we have seen a trend in the added connectivity of the things all around us, so too have we begun to witness the added interactivity of brands within our everyday objects, systems and daily routines. I call this “The Advertising of Things.”

This is not a wholly new concept in the world of advertising: product placement has been inserting itself into entertainment, brands have been licensing merchandise, and Absolut has found a way to express itself in any and every form of art for years. But The Internet of Things has allowed advertising to reach us at unprecedented touch points – from the check-ins we have every 25 seconds with our phones, to the up-and-coming wearable technology that will soon snugly cling to us throughout the day.

Advertising has become more than simply messaging to sell products, services and experiences – it has become an array products, services and experiences in and of itself.  Brands are creating apps, content, in-store experiences and more. Paul Kemp-Robertson even notes that with the advent of gift cards, loyalty programs, and store points, branded currency has effectively disrupted traditional money. Nike has gone as far as to allow customers to bid on products with the number of miles they’ve run, verified by its own Nike+ technology.

For this reason, alongside all the incredible data and new technology still avalanche-ing in at us, I believe that advertising is in its Renaissance. The industry needs bright minds to solve business problems in increasingly innovative ways, as companies must find ways to connect in an increasingly creative economy.

While I’m still only a kid playing in my first advertising sandbox, I’m not the only one there. The evolution of the industry is still young, everyone is learning the new language as they go, and we are in a time where it can even be an advantage to have your company founded by a 21 year-old who isn’t attached to the status quo.

So let’s pour an Old Fashioned in honor of Don Draper’s Golden Age and have a toast to advertising’s new heyday in the Digital.

Don Draper