Ask the Board – September 19, 2016 | PETER RIVERA


How do you expect advertising to evolve with “smart” or “connected” cities?

First, a couple of evolving definitions. In my earlier digital agency days, I was taught that the best advertising is work that can be mistaken for a product or service in and of itself—this vs. a full page ad in The New York Times. Such was the promise of digital. Yeah, we made banner ads to pay the bills, but we wanted to really create digital products that would change the way people lived and how brands were perceived.

As predicted, advertising is more and more becoming the creation of services that a technologically astute brand provides to current and future customers that meets unfulfilled needs in the moment, as opposed to delivering those static messages and billboards. This trend has been accelerating for 20 years and it’s why major ad agencies are starting to worry that their spend is leaving Madison Avenue for product and business strategy companies like Deloitte and IBM. Digital transformation itself is the new advertising: creating apps and customer-service experiences that anticipate and support needs at scale. This “App Generation” has created and lives on entirely new platforms for both brand and content expression as well as the monetization of those interactions. And billions are being made.

Now a ‘city’ is its people and structures, of course, but it’s also a network. In the past, many of the network’s needs were mysterious and hidden to us: traffic jams, subway delays, concerts in the park, flash floods, and, importantly, the public sentiment. It was hard to understand what was really going on or to get the word out since the city was not yet monitoring itself due to a lack of cheap technology. As more Internet of Things (IOT) technologies are deployed within cities over the coming years, cities will increase their capacity to wear a “digital halo” that anticipates and supports the needs of both its citizens and itself. This is the great intersection going on now of mobile culture, advertising and the ‘smart city.’

The best recent example of this intersection is Pokemon Go, a game/service that you use within the geo-targeted spaces where you live and work. And what is the display on your phone but just another real-time mini-billboard promoting the assets of Nintendo? This is just the beginning. When a stock creates $7 billion dollars of value in a week, you can expect more of this kind of thing.

As for cities becoming more aware, sensors will be everywhere and sensor-powered displays will be hooked up to systems using real-time predictive analytics to run their “media.” Factors such as weather, time of day, volume of people passing by, news events, sentiment (as measured by expressions), gender, race and a wide variety of other variables that constitute near omniscience, will advance current digital media models and what and when it is displayed to the public. Larger, less expensive high-resolution display technology is caught up in this revolution as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they provide the near-entire external skin of our architectural structures, partly for glorious effect, but also partly to offset the ballooning costs to build them by potentially providing a new platform for advertising in themselves.

As cities become more “aware,” this type of predictive pattern marketing will be a given in smart cities. Yet, this is still a variation on mass advertising, even if infused with more intelligence.

1:1 marketing will remain critical based on the city/advertiser recognizing our faces and/or our NFC phones, but I do think this will be “opt-in” as privacy remains a chief concern of the populace. Brands that cross the line will be vociferously attacked. Using geolocation and the notification setting on any smartphone, Starbucks already rolled out this kind of proximity marketing five or six years ago. These tactics can only work if we WANT them to as a preference, not as some dystopian spam attack. So maybe you can recognize me and show me something I really need, then what? Google is testing a payment system based on facial-recognition and voice authorization so we don’t even have to touch anything. Even outside or on a concourse, we’ll be able to just talk to digital signage and have things shipped to our homes while payment taken care of in a completely frictionless and secure transaction.

Since advertisers cannot completely rely on people having their mobile device out, smart digital signage will become more and more popular. But I also believe that smart glass will also have an amazing impact on cities and advertising. We are seeing some interesting mixed reality advancement with technology such as Microsoft’s Hololens release, which places holograms in the real world. We’ll also see our car windshields providing overlaid data (and the inevitable proximity-based offers) tied to that new transparent view of the city powered by new sources of data. Even store windows will become yet another surface for brands to dynamically express themselves and tell targeted stories to whoever is walking by.


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VP, Chief Experience Officer

Advertising & Brand Council

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