Google released the Google Glass terms last week, which state (to the surprise of many), that developers “may not serve or include any advertisements in your API Client.” This has been interpreted by some to mean that Google Glass will be an advertising free platform.
However, this is probably not the case and here is why:
First of all it is important to note that only third-party developers are (currently) prohibited from placing ads. Google itself is not bound by these app development rules. Many app developers create a “free” version of their apps which are supported through advertising. It is this particular form of advertising that Google wants to prevent. Some might even argue this is Google’s attempt at further controlling their advertising revenue streams considering the enormous reach of Google’s own Search & Display Network (Google Search, Shopping, Maps, Images, Groups and search partner sites). If Google is not careful this could potentially even lead to further antitrust implications.
We also have to keep in mind that the data collected by the sensor array of Glass is very valuable to Google’s Analytics programs and glass certainly will drive users to other advertisement revenue streams where said data will further contribute to personalised ads. Or in the words of Eric Schmidt “Mobile ads should ultimately be more valuable because we have more information about the consumer, because we’re connected to them.”
Google’s primary goal for the release of the consumer version will be mass-adoption. They can’t afford alienating potential buyers with any form of ad spam or an otherwise cluttered interface. Hardware performance is also problematic. The first generation of Glass will be severely underpowered, just like the first generation of Android phones released in 2008. However Android and the devices the OS is running on have evolved tremendously in just a few years and Glass will certainly follow this trend.
But there is more, much more, because Glass could potentially be the beginning of the future of advertising – Augmented Reality.
Real-time augmentation of the physical environment with virtual elements in semantic context offering a unique user-experience, is what some marketers believe to be the final frontier of advertising.
“Stop thinking of augmented reality as a business. It’s a browser,” states John Havens, founder of the H(app)athon Project.
Google Glass and the myriad of imitators it will spawn if it takes off (it surely won’t take long till we see “Samsung Galaxy Eye-wear” and “iGlasses”), will irrevocably change the way we perceive and interact with the world, which of course includes brands. The Internet has completely changed marketing over the past 20 years and while we probably (and hopefully) won’t see any ad spam aka “ADmented Reality” anytime soon, the “Outernet” is bound to revolutionise marketing in a similar way.
But what about adoption rates, you might ask. Flurry Analytics reported last August, that smart-phone adoption was 10 times faster than the PC revolution in the 80′s and three times faster than the social networking revolution (both still ongoing of course, as Eric Schmidt notable stated in a recent interview with the guardian, “we forget that the majority of people are not online and that they will come online, the majority of them in the next five years.”)
“If we go back look at how fast things are adopting lately compared to 10 to 15 years ago, we’re looking at mass adoption in 2015 or 2016,” says Andrew Couch, CEO of Candy Lab, another AR company.
According to Juniper Research’s study “Mobile Augmented Reality: Entertainment, LBS & Retail Strategies 2012 – 2017”, the industry expects to generate $300 million in AR related revenue through a mixture of advertising, paid apps and post- download content this year alone. Juniper expects that more than 2.5 billion AR apps will be downloaded by 2017, generating a Revenue of $5.2 billion in 2017 alone.
We certainly have to take these estimates with a grain of salt, considering junipers business model there is probably some bias at play, however, they also caution that lack of consumer awareness concerning AR remains a major hurdle. Technological limitations are also a huge concern (bandwidth, cameras, battery life etc.) that will provide a great challenge for manufacturers to live up to consumer expectations.
While we are just witnessing the dawn of the emergence of truly wearable computing, the biggest challenges to mass-adoption of AR Devices like Glass are perhaps human biology and sociology.
Who, except geeks would really want to wear Glass? Even if Glass becomes indistinguishable from regular prescription or sunglasses, Google is essentially attempting to convert us all into fighter pilots by means of heads-up displays. Surely the average person will find this disorienting, at the very least at first. Although we increasingly distract ourselves with our smart-phones, we are by no means used to having a permanent Terminator-style HUD of “assisting” data to process. Social etiquette is the other elephant in the room. Perhaps the ultimate factor deciding over Glasses success is not the user experience but the experience of those not using them. If early adopters don’t feel the social acceptance they desire by using a device that allows them to record people and events at all times (lifebits), they might abandon them quickly. Of course all of this has massive privacy implication and there are already those who sound the alarm, even going as far as launching a “Stop The Cyborgs” campaign.
But let’s assume all goes well for Google and Glass does take off, how will this inevitably impact advertising?
Billboard ads could potentially become personalised just like contextual online ads and we might see something completely different than the person next to us. The real game changer so to speak however will perhaps be the merging of augmented reality and gamification and here is an example:
Google’s massive mobile augmented reality game – Ingress, demonstrates the potential AR and gamification united have and how it may change marketing.
Ingress is a virtual reality game developed by Google’s Niantic Labs where players earn virtual energy called XM and can then spend the XM on missions, located at widely-accessible public places. The game’s narrative is set around a global data battle consisting of “The Resistance” and “The Enlightened”. Ingress is however much more than just a game. It’s a means to collect massive amounts of GIS and other Data so valuable to Google’s core business and the reason it is a prime example for the concept of gamification. Ingress is also closely integrated with Google’s own social network google+.
The stories and missions feature already a number of US brands Including Hint Water, car rental service Zipcar, Jamba Juice an Chrome (San Francisco-based bag & apparel outfit with no relation). The challenge for Google is to successfully embed their advertising into the game’s narrative in a way that is not intrusive and that complements the game-play experience. Their first attempts to weave a subtle yet engaging form of advertising into Ingress include objectives directing players to sponsored Brands stores and scan in-game objects. Balancing unobtrusive integration while maintaining profitability for sponsors is certainly tricky. It is however in every company’s interest to participate in projects that not only feature their brand but also attract potential customers to their stores. Even if these individuals initially only just come to make some XM, chances are they purchase something while they are there. Not to mention the value of encouraging people to interact and engage with the brand, because the more in-depth consumers relationship become with a brand, the more affinity they will feel for it.
Google’s John Hanke stated that Google plans to make API’s available in the future, enabling other developers to build AR games based Google Maps.
The use of gamification to shape behaviour is exponentially growing, with the spending on it expected to increase from $242 million in 2012 to $2.8 billion in 2016, according to the California based technology research firm M2 Research. Large corporations and small businesses alike are adopting the technology. About 70 % of the top 2,000 global companies are predicted to use gamification applications for marketing and other purposes by 2014.
When asked if Google was really serious about Ingress or if it was just another experiment, Hanke said that Google takes it genuinely serious and aims to make Ingress as engaging as possible. The primary objective is officially to motivate people to explore their cites and others they visit (which is also the goal of Field Trip, another Google-Niantic app). The secondary goal is to encourage collaboration and cooperation, locally and globally, for the completion of missions. However, considering that about 96% (2011) of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, it is more than a little likely that Google plans to get more out of Ingress than just motivating people to leave their couch/chair. Ingress is currently in an invite-only public beta (only available for Android currently. If you use iOS and want to try AR games, you might want to take a look at AR Defender and Paranormal Activity) and meant to run for one and a half years once officially released, but a conclusion will probably not be reached until the game’s impact is felt on Google’s advertising services.
If all of this isn’t farfetched enough yet, let’s take this to the next level and imagine a future where everything is in one form or another a game, from workout to dating, thanks to extensive AR technology.
Exactly that is the premise of a brilliant (and creepy) short sci-fi film titled “Sight”, created as a grad project for Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, depicting a future with retinal implants and the merging of augmented reality, gamification and social media.
We are witnessing the advent of augmented reality and its logical conclusion in merging with gamification. These are exciting times ahead and once device manufacturers, especially Google as the lead innovator, are doing their part, it is up to us to get creative and start preparing to do digital marketing somewhat differently.
*Part 2 will take a more in-depth look at Google’s marketing strategy for Glass and the social ramifications of wearing and using Glass in public. Stay Tuned!