A view from Russell Davies

The watches might be smart, but the advertising will have to be smarter

Are you wearing a watch? (Did you glance just then to check? I hope so. I like the idea that I can make you do...

It’s less likely now than it used to be that you are wearing a watch: phones have replaced them as time-telling devices for many people. But I’ve always assumed telling the time is actually very low down the list of reasons people wear watches – they must be the ultimate proof of the power of branding.

No-one needs to spend more than £2.99 on a watch, yet everyone who wears one does. And, interestingly, most watch advertising is so absolutely dreadful and yet apparently effective.

Anyway. That’s not why we’re gathered here today. We’re here because watches are probably going to be the next thing you have to worry about. All the big technology companies are rumoured to be working on smart watches – some of them have actually admitted doing it. It’s likely to be the next digital battleground and, if you thought mobile was a hard place to do ads, wait until you try wrists.

The general idea is that your smart watch will work with your phone: in some cases, just being an extra screen; in others, working as an extra sensor; sometimes, even working as an input mechanism – maybe you’ll talk to it, or gesture at it, because, let’s face it, typing on it is going to be tricky.

Less than a Tweet, smaller than an Instagram, these are the spaces we’re going to have to get used to

It won’t surprise you to learn I’m a bit of a sucker for these things. I’ve bought almost every generation of smart watches, even when they were really, really useless, and I can’t wait until they produce one that doesn’t make me look like an idiot. The first hint of that was a Kickstarter project called Pebble. It’s the first smart watch with enough battery life to be practical and, though its smartness is mostly limited to showing the text messages sent to your phone, it’s enough to suggest these things will find a market.

The display that’s right there on your wrist is a natural bit of notification space (though it’s hard to check in a meeting without looking like you’re bored and clocking the time). The challenge is that it’s such a small space to use; less than a Tweet, smaller than an Instagram, these are the spaces we’re going to have to get used to.

We should be good at it – advertising’s core expertise is compression, after all – but it’s another channel to get to learn. So, take this as permission to stick a fancy new watch on expenses: you’re buying it for "research".

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
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