How marketing can prevent a future of dystopian connected cities

Cities are becoming the ultimate connected ecosystems, says Dax Hamman, chief product officer at Chango, with enhanced 4G mobile coverage and cloud computing technology allowing us to stream information from the internet at all times of the day.

Advertising in cities is in the 'Minority Report' phase
Advertising in cities is in the 'Minority Report' phase

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.

‘Minority Report’ stage

The first phase in the evolution of the connected city you might call 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.

Connected creates enjoyment

A good example of the kind of technology I’m talking about is starting to emerge in the commercial

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

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 that 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 eventually 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. Just think of the opportunities this would create 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 stores able to track the location of a nearby shopper and instantly create a pair of trainers (with help from a 3D printer) that they have been browsing on their smartphone and exactly match their shoe size.

Third phase: Virtual reality

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. There are even contact lenses being developed that display augmented reality imaging. The lenses are integrated with sophisticated circuitry, LEDs and an antenna for wireless communication.

Connected city: Dystopian picture

Amidst all this technological change in our cities, legitimate concerns will begin to emerge, not least that brands will be over-eager in taking advantage of the new advertising inventory created by a

If we learn the lessons digital marketers are already teaching us, connected cities don’t have to become such blunt instruments for brands

connected city. 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 banner adds 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.

The merging of the digital and physical worlds is coming into focus 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 key in making sure this doesn’t happen.



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