Brands are damaging the Internet of Things' rep with continuous non-news

Think of something and put the word "smart" in front of it. It's the new craze. We used to put an "i" in front of things and before that an "e" but not anymore, now it's all about smart things. All the brands are doing it. Smart diapers, smart meters, smart watches.

The internet of things: Samsung's smart fridge
The internet of things: Samsung's smart fridge

How about smart chopsticks? Well they exist, sort of. Chinese web giant Baidu made an announcement, with a raft of headlines, explaining how the smart chopstick is able to tell the safety of your food.

Ingenious? Yes. Over-engineered? Probably. Real? Not really. You see the smart chopstick is "‘vapourware", a non-product that is created for talkability and buzz.

It achieved that in spades. The prototype device can, to some extent, tell olive oil from gutter oil (something that would be of great benefit to public health) but isn’t something that is anywhere near capable of delivering what the headlines suggest. It is a non-product; a marketing stunt.

It’s trapped in a hype cycle that doesn’t seem to be letting up, a continuous stream of non-news that could potentially damage its reputation.

That’s part of the problem with the image of Internet of Things (IoT). It’s trapped in a hype cycle that doesn’t seem to be letting up, a continuous stream of non-news that could potentially damage its reputation.

What the headline makers don’t seem to understand is that IoT has been around for decades, created by big industry to track products and supply chains.

Only recently has it got cheaper and smaller and started to show up in our homes. The classic example of  IoT that you’ll hear down the pub (the yardstick for any explainable concept or idea) is the smart-fridge – the perfect way to explain the internet of things.

The one thing most people involved in IoT will roll their eyes at is a fridge that knows what you’ve eaten and automatically orders replacements. You know the one, it is the future.

Well if the curse of the smart-fridge wasn’t enough, now IoT is responsible for countless other smart products whose only intention is to PR a brand that has no real intent to produce it (any time soon at least).

The concern I have is that the more we marketers cry wolf, the more suspicion will grow around the true usefulness of the genuinely smart products.

Brands (and their agencies) will stop seeing IoT innovations as PR-able one-hit wonders and start to look at developing products that are genuinely useful, affordable and desirable.

Of course, there are some reasonably useful products popping up in-market. Philip's Hue is overpriced but still quite useful. It is allowing people to create visible notifications, such as a change of colour of light to visualise weather conditions for the day.

Dyson’s robo-vacuum, a labour saving dream since the 50s, looks like it's nearly sophisticated enough to let loose around your retro furniture with some pretty decent room mapping. And of course the other gold-standard example, Nest, providing insight into your power usage and home heating.

No article about IoT would miss a mention of Nest now would it? All are products heading for the mainstream and establishing themselves as nearly-ready-for-normal-people.

Other products are much more in their infancy but show some real promise. For example Bleep Bleeps working in the realm of infant health, while the Good Night Lamp simplifys communication between long-distance relatives.

But what of the future? Well hopefully the brands (and their agencies) will stop seeing IoT innovations as PR-able one-hit wonders and start to look at developing products that are genuinely useful, affordable and desirable. The opportunity is huge.

Marketers? If you’re only interested in creating Vapourware tread very carefully, consider finding a better idea or way to resonate with your audience.

If, on the other hand you, have the opportunity to join a collaboration between brands and customers you may well find yourself getting closer to helping achieve a truly useful smart-thing, service or experience.

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