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12Ahead Guest Blog: The future of marketing in the connected city


Guest Post by 12Ahead, the most powerful digital trends platform from The Knowledge Engineers

This week Dax Hamman, from Chango, looks at how windowless planes and solar-powered road panels will enhance our connected cities.

Cities are becoming the ultimate connected ecosystems, with enhanced 4G mobile coverage and cloud computing technology allowing us to stream information from the internet at any time of day.

Added to this are countless smart sensors embedded into our physical environments – the cookies of the real world – aggregating huge amounts of sophisticated data on everything from the weather, to consumer shopping patterns.

You might call the first phase in the evolution of the connected city the ‘Minority Report’ stage. If you’ve seen the Tom Cruise movie, you’ll be familiar with the huge digital banner ads it depicts that are able to use data mined from personal devices to deliver personalised messages to people as they pass by. But even at this stage we’re still a long way off from realising the true potential of our cities.

The second phase in the evolution of the connected city is when things will start to get really interesting. By then, technology will have moved forward enough to not just create countless new opportunities for brands to connect with us, but also make our urban environments much more appealing and enjoyable places to live.

A good example of the kind of technology I’m talking about is starting to emerge in the commercial aviation industry. Plane manufacturers have long argued the benefits of building planes without passenger windows. The added structural strength they require pushes up both the cost of building an aircraft and the ticket price as well.

One alternative some aviation manufacturers are advocating is replacing the passenger windows with full-length screens that can broadcast anything the passenger wants. You can easily see this technology making its way into train carriages, where instead of staring into a brick wall within a dark tunnel, you could be looking at a forest passing by or anything else our imaginations can come up with. This could create huge opportunities for branded carriages or targeted video advertising.

Even the roads and paving under our feet might begin to interact with us as the second phase unfolds. Solar Roadways, a start-up in the US is already developing solar-powered road panels with in-built electronics and sensors. As smart roads evolve, we could see shops able to instantly create a pair of trainers (with help from a 3D printer) that a passing shopper has been browsing on their smartphone and exactly match their shoe size.

The third phase will be even more enjoyable for city dwellers, as augmented and virtual reality starts to come into play. Brands will have a unique opportunity at this stage to drive people’s experiences to even more immersive levels.

For example, one technology start up, Feonic, has cleverly designed a device that can turn any glass surface into a speaker, so shop windows or coffee tables can transmit sound adding a new layer of audio stimulation to advertising. Also, there are contact lenses being developed* that display augmented reality imaging. The lenses are integrated with sophisticated circuitry, LEDs and an antenna for wireless communication.

With all these changes in our cities, legitimate concerns will begin to emerge, not least that brands will be over-eager to take advantage of the new advertising inventory created by a connected city and consumers risk being bombarded. For a dystopian picture of where this could take mankind, just look to Tokyo. Anyone who’s been to the city will be aware of the aggressive billboard ads you see everywhere, many of which come with the added irritation of audio. Imagine this backed up by real-time data taken from mobile devices and the scenario would be enough to drive anyone to distraction.

But if we learn the lessons digital marketers are already teaching us, connected cities don’t have to become such blunt instruments for brands. Programmatic technology is already able to prevent people being targeted with endless ads for products they’re either not interested in or they’ve bought already. Instead, they receive a much smaller volume of relevant messages, at the right time and in the right place.

Increasingly, the merging of the digital and physical worlds is becoming a reality, and we need to ensure our urban environments don’t become a marketing nightmare for the people who live and work in them. Programmatic technology will be vital in making sure this doesn’t happen.


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