How Brands Can Have Authentic Conversations In ‘Smart Cities’

As interconnected rise of shared mobility and connected intelligence has led to the development of “smart cities,” major urban centers are using technology like sensors, smart lights, and digital displays to collect and analyze data. But perhaps one of the most interesting factors in the development of smart cites is the arrival of free, high-speed wifi in public urban spaces — bringing with it significant opportunities for marketers and consumers alike.

As the internet proliferates within smart cities, it’s effectively “reinventing information in a public space,” explained Colin O’Donnell, CIO at Intersection, in a session at Cannes Lions — giving brands, public service [entities], and more the opportunity to respond to how people behave in real time.

“We’re at a moment in advertising where personalization, connecting to someone’s life, is becoming more important,” O’Donnell said. “And then we have this rise in smart cities happening at the same time. That’s huge.”

For its part, Intersection has launched its LinkNYC initiative, replacing outdated phone booths in New York City and turning them into “digital kiosks” with free wifi — which can both take inputs (anonymized data) and push outputs, like real-time infrastructure updates or, yes, a brand’s message.

But now that this capability exists, the questions is: How can brands have authentic conversations in cities — without being viewed as one more interruptor during the daily commute?

  • Use the city as a conversation starter: As always, it’s crucial to focus on user experience: What is the journey that someone is on? Obviously, this can be complicated — but by using real-time data based on where users are accessing the wifi, marketers can customize messages based on time of day (is it rush hour?) or contextual location (is there a train delay nearby?) For example, Intersection ran a campaign for Miller-Coors based on LinkNYC wifi points that informed consumers near a delayed train where their closest bar serving Miller-Coors was — so they could wait out the delay with a drink rather than on a hot train platform.
  • Think outside the box: O’Donnell emphasized the need to ask, “what needs to be done [via technology in smart cities]  that can’t be done already?” This means that it doesn’t truly add value to use mass wifi to simply push out generic banner ads; instead, as in the first example, its about responding to a city’s circumstances in real time. Is this a central tourist area where someone might need help with directions? Or are there a line of locals waiting outside a bar for a concert? This makes a big difference; then use this information to think creatively about what kind of services people might want.
  • Marry geo-data to brand data: “At Intersection, our approach is about marrying the [real-time data we have] to the data a brand already has about its consumers to create something meaningful, useful, entertaining,” O’Donnell said.  “The advertising essentially has to be a product.” In other words, it takes viewing a combination of data points holistically to create messages that are more than ads; success likes in building something so interesting or informative that it adds value in and of itself — not just sells something.

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Why Amazon Took Over Times Square With A 79-Foot Echo

Amazon has unveiled a billboard compete with a 79-foot-tall 3D replica of its Echo speaker in Times Square as part of a campaign to promote awareness for Amazon Music — and and subtly encourage users of its Alexa intelligent assistant to use more integrated Amazon services.

In addition to the 79-foot Echo — the largest installation by an advertiser in Times Square — the billboard reads, “Alexa, play the song that goes… ‘love is all you need.” Per Amazon, “our goal is to increase awareness for Amazon Music,” Josh Fein, head of partner and brand marketing for Amazon Music told AdWeek. “To highlight one of our unique and innovative Alexa voice features, the lyrics search functionality, we chose iconic lyrics that promoted positivity and togetherness through the power of music.”

Indeed, it’s possible that this lyric search functionality might cause more users to turn to Amazon Music to play tunes — after all, who can remember the song name every time? But it also displays a keen awareness that, as voice-activated searches continue to skyrocket, users often ask their Alexa-powered devices to play music from Apple music, Spotify, or other services. As interest in — and ownership of — connected devices of all stripes grows, Amazon is smart to draw a connection between the Amazon Echo and Amazon Music itself, even as the Echo’s functionality remains broad.

Times Square Takeover

There exists also, of course, the simple branding aspect of the installation. Much like when Snapchat did a Times Square takeover without geofilters, Amazon’s display simply aims to be different and to represent the tech giant’s rise to “connected intelligence” importance to both consumers and marketers.

And as OUTFRONT Media — which powered both the Snapchat and Amazon installations — said last year, “we can’t comment on the cost [of ads], but will say there’s incredible brand value in taking over one of the world’s most iconic, high-traffic locations,” Senese said. “OUTFRONT is proud to partner with Snapchat and other fast-growth companies [like Amazon] to provide a unique way to drive huge impact for their business.”

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The Future Of Car Talk: The Weather Company Runs First ‘Cognitive Ads’ For Toyota

The Weather Company, an IBM Business, is taking another big leap in connecting artificial intelligence and advertising with the launch of what the company claims is the “first cognitive ads” for the auto industry in a campaign to promote the Toyota Prius Prime.

The Watson Ads for the Prius Prime will run in The Weather Channel App and on

The campaign follows recent uses of Watson Ads by the Campbell Soup Company, Unilever, and GSK Consumer Healthcare, respectively began their first foray into marketing that promises to understand and respond intelligently to consumers’ voice-activated and written queries.

The most recent effort involved Watson Ads being aligned with the annual return of the GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Allergy Tracker digital tools to promote relief through its Flonase brand.

And now, with Toyota, the Watson ads invite consumers connect with brands with a personalized, one-to-one conversation via voice and text.

This Watson Ads experience is primarily focused on driving awareness and brand engagement, says Sarah Ripmaster, head of automotive sales at The Weather Company. “Toyota’s goal with this campaign is to reach and engage consumers who are interested in the Prius Prime.

Text or voice queries are answered directly in the ads, which can also send local Toyota dealership information.

The cognitive ad format combines machine learning, natural language understanding, and integrated dialogue tools designed to deliver on the promise of a personalized user experience.

IBM Watson can discern a user’s intent — as opposed to reacting to a keyword search — to best respond to the consumer, The Weather Company says.

Using Watson Ads, Toyota is employing the power of AI to “engage and educate” consumers about Prius Prime. Consumers are invited to ask questions like, “How can I be a better Prius driver” or “Can you tell me about the Prius’s new features?”

By connecting one-on-one and offering a consumer the new car information they specifically ask for, the effort can guiding decision making during the purchase consideration stage, Ripmaster says.

“Watson Ads put the consumers in the driver’s seat,” she says. “Instead of passively experiencing a brand’s message, consumers are actively engaging with the ad to learn more about car on their own terms. This means the experience empowers consumer to ask the questions that truly matter the most to them during their auto shopping journey, and can ultimately help impact brand consideration.

“On Toyota’s side, they are able get deeper insight into the types of questions that consumers are asking during the decision-making process, which can then influence future creative messaging and media strategies,” Ripmaster added.

The Toyota Watson Ad includes several additional features that extend the interaction, including exploring different Prius models, branded video content, and a Toyota dealer locator.

“In the competitive automotive market, the ability to showcase a helpful and beneficial customer experience is invaluable,” says John Lisko, executive communications director, Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota’s creative and media shop. ”

We are entering the next frontier of marketing, with cognition and AI poised to take consumer engagement to the next level, and Watson Ads is a prime example of that shift and the great potential we have,”Lisko adds. “We have leveraged IBM Watson in other areas of our business such as the programmatic video campaign of 300 custom pieces for Toyota RAV4 and most recently, the Mirai campaign on Facebook in which the tool wrote thousands of ads and we continue to uncover valuable insights.”

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How VR And Mobility Are Influencing Ford’s Marketing

When the Ford Motor Company made the leap into Virtual Reality in August 2016, its goals were firm and clear: this was not an experiment. It would not be a one-time ad campaign designed to “generate buzz” and then disappear. And Ford’s VR experience would not be housed on another company’s platform.

Ford, along with its dedicated agency, GTB, partnered with integrated production company Tool of North America, to create what they say is the “auto industry’s first dedicated branded VR app and recurring content series.”

“It wasn’t about selling vehicles,” said Lisa Schoder, Integrated Marketing & Media Lead at Ford, during a panel session with the company’s VR allies at the IAB Mobile Symposium. “This was more about building the brand. This was about telling Ford’s story of innovation in our products and engineering development.”

GTB’s Christian Colasuonno, Ford’s Lisa Schoder, and Tool’s Dustin Callif at the IAB Mobile Symposium

VR: It’s Where The Customers Are Going

The deep dive into VR reflects Ford’s recognition of where potential customers are consuming content. Plus, it reflects the desire to move to a mobile-first strategy,” Schoder said.

“The VR app made sense for us as a way to pursue original storytelling through  in a thoughtful way,” she said. “We avoided thinking of this as a ‘one and done.’ This was about building a new channel for us to distribute content on.”

The first piece of featured VR content during the launch was the story behind the Ford GT’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 50 years after the car’s original victory. The underlying message of the content was to showcase “the power and efficiency in Ford’s EcoBoost engine” as well.

“On top of sharing virtual reality stories about our innovative products, we are also looking to bring mobility issues to the forefront,” Schoder said at the time of the launch. “As we expand our business to be both an auto and a mobility company, we are pursuing emerging opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility.”

From the final installment of the Gymkhana NINE virtual reality and 360-degree video series.

Initial Results Are Strong

The idea for focusing on VR as a branding tool had been “kicking around  the agency for a while,” said Christian Colasuonno, director of Digital Production at GTB.

For example, at another IAB conference last year,  MINI USA’s Lee Nadler showcased that car company’s use of VR as well. The  main goal was not just to share arresting visuals. He wanted to demonstrate that, even though “VR isn’t mass yet,” the ability of immersive, 3D visuals are able to lift brand favorability by 11 percent after generating 4.2 million views.

For Ford, the initial results of its VR efforts were even stronger. The VR experience for Ford’s participation in Gymkhana, the Australian and New Zealand motorsport race, last October drew over 17 million-plus views, as well as drew widespread coverage from media outlets both general and automotive-focused.

During the IAB presentation, Dustin Callif, Tool’s managing partner, noted that Schoder started her career on the engineering side and then moved to marketing.

“The story we’re telling is how that reputation for performance can be stepped up into something larger for the brand,”Callif said before turning to Schoder. “Is [this use of VR and mobile] analogous to the relationship between the auto-enthusiast books and the mainstream advertising were back 20 years ago? Is this an advanced version of that?”

“Maybe,” Schoder responded. “At least in the way we approached it, if we were saying we wanted to deliver stories with the Ford brand onstage, those key moments are in our performance portfolio. And we also knew that when we dug into the audience insights with our performance fanbase, we knew they were largely into tech and identify as early adopters. Now, we’re looking to go beyond performance to see what other stories we can tell to a broader audience.”

Smart Mobility And Connected Cars

Following the panel, we caught up with Schoder and asked her about other emerging channels that can offer both a branding experience as well as drive performance to local dealers.

While the IAB panel discussion was about the role of Ford’s VR app as a branding and content distribution tool, does Schoder see VR as something that can work at the local dealership level to create an omnichannel experience intended to drive sales?

It certainly could be,” Schoder told GeoMarketing. “This particular app was initiated to build brand stories. We’re also looking at VR within the shopping experience. It could provide education about new features, for example, ‘How do you experience the all-new Expedition from the inside-out?’ That is certainly a part of how we might approach the overall use of the VR technology.”

Aside from VR, Ford is also exploring ways of using voice-activated, artificial intelligence-powered digital assistants like Alexa or Siri or Okay Google as part of a wider smart mobility strategy, she noted.

“We want to understand how to work with Amazon on Alexa, so that if someone asks a question about one of our cars, they can have the right answer, the best answer for them,” Schoder said. “We are already working with Amazon on our connected vehicles and see how Alexa fits into what we’re doing and what our customers want. For example, it would be exciting for someone to say, ‘Hey Alexa, start my car.’ The car is a piece of the Internet of Things ecosystem and we want to explore all of it.”


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Apple Maps Adds Indoor Navigation, Stops Notifications While Driving

With iOS 11, Apple Maps will launch indoor location capabilities for malls and airports in cities including Chicago, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, and Washington, DC, the company announced at its developer conference this week — a sign that Apple, once thought of primarily as a punchline in the mapping world, aims attempt to compete in the “next wave” of location that goes far beyond auto routes.

For shopping malls, Apple Maps will show floor plans and store information, store directories, and the ability to search and browse; airports will reportedly be similar. This represents a step forward for users shopping or traveling inside unfamiliar spaces, giving them a sense of their relative position and an improved ability to find businesses and information nearby — though it bears noting that Google and Bing already offer similar indoor maps, and that Google Now moved to connect indoor mapping to inventory ads back in 2016 in a bid to give local businesses more avenues to direct users to their store shelves for a specific product.

Perhaps Apple Maps will introduce similar or improved functionality, especially as it has indicated a willingness to drive forward in the connected intelligence space, unveiling its smart speaker Homepod that is intended to be an “entertainment hub first, connected home tools second”  — but the extent to which users will actually engage with indoor location on Apple Maps and use it to find and purchase items remains to be seen.

Do Not Disturb

Along with its indoor mapping news, Apple Maps also revealed that it would launch a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature as part of iOS 11. “Do Not Disturb” will block notifications from showing up when Apple determines that a user is driving, “either through a Bluetooth connection or Wi-Fi doppler,” The Verge reported. (Overrides for preferred contacts or urgent messages will still exist.)

This update is perhaps more significant, and while it doesn’t have a built-in application for marketers in the same sense as indoor location, it does perhaps represent a growing commitment to safety on the part of mapping providers while still aiming to offer new and innovative features for consumers on-the-go.

In any case, location technology continues to be the center of other emerging technology, such as “intelligent assistants” like Siri and the commerce that they can drive. And Apple and Google have been keenly aware how travelers are particularly dependent on “connected knowledge” thats draw on mapping and businesses’ consumer-facing info. As such, the future here appears wide open.

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How Apple Is Aiming Higher Than Amazon’s Echo With Homepod

“Hey, Siri.”

That’s how consumers who purchase Apple’s “smart speaker” Homepod will wake up the device that was long-anticipated as the Cupertino company’s answer to Amazon’s Echo and Google Home in the voice-activated device market.

But as executives Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP for software engineering, and Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing head, introduced Homepod, it was clear that, as usual, Apple was looking beyond utility to something more all-encompassing.

Apple Homepod in action

And by emphasizing Homepod, which is powered by Apple’s pioneering connected intelligence voice-assisant Siri, the company is emphasizing the new device as an entertainment hub first, a connected home tool second. With that in mind, it made more sense that Federighi and Schiller took aim not at Echo and Alexa, or Google Assistant, but at wireless home audio system Sonos during the company’s WWDC forum on Monday.

After tracing the rise of iTunes and the first iPod a decade ago to the debut of Airbods, the iPhone’s Bluetooth-powered wireless earbuds, last year, CEO Tim Cook told the 6,000 WWDC attendees, “Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music.”

Homepod’s positioning starts with entertainment, but it doesn’t end there.

“This is so exciting: the chance to reinvent the way we listen to music in the home,” Schiller said breathlessly as he took the stage. “Why hasn’t this happened yet? There certainly are a lot of companies working hard to help us enjoy music in our home. But none of them have quite nailed it yet.”

“Some [an image of a Sonos speaker appears on the screen] have worked hard to make wireless music sound good around our homes,” Schiller continued These aren’t smart speakers. Others [an image of an Amazon Echo materializes behind him] have worked to make smart speakers that you can talk to — but they don’t sound so great when you listen to music. We want to combine all this to deliver a breakthrough experience.”

Among the things Schiller listed that Homepod has to do a to qualify as “great” includes the ability to “rock the house” by being able to play distortion-free sounds a very low or loud volumes. It also has to be  “spatially aware” so that it recognizes the dimensions of the room its in — plus, it needs to be able to react to being paired with another Homepod.

Lastly, it has to be fun to use. While Schiller initially defined “fun” as relying on a “built-in musicologist” that can recommend what to listen to, that would appear to be the Trojan Horse to promote Homepod and Siri as a way to lead users to other forms of discovery, including where to go for dinner, where to plan a trip, where to order groceries.

As Apple has tried to make Siri smarter to compete with Amazon and Google’s voice assistants, it has also assiduously tried to improve its location and mapping intelligence. And that capability underpins Homepod and Siri’s development as a complete digital home services unit.

With adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubling in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands, and analysts predicting dominance of the marketplace going to current leader Amazon, because of its head-start, or to Google, by dint of its wide mobile consumer base, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space.

Apple could move 12 million units of its voice-activated device in its first year, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi recently estimated. And it has a number of advantages.

Aside from appealing to consumers’ desire for simplicity — something lacking in the current feature-heavy iPhone, as the NYT reported this past week — and fun, the price also makes Homepod incredibly enticing: it starts at $349.

While that’s certainly higher than the Amazon Echo $180, Echo Dot’s $50, as well as the Echo View’s $230, Google Home’s $129. It’s also higher than Sonos Play:1’s  $199 and Play:3 runs for $299. Still, $349 is still cheaper than an iPhone and the price point is not “aspirational and luxury” in the way a $600 Apple Watch is.

Assuming it can be the best of both worlds, Apple’s reasonably priced Homepod could conceivably boost the connected intelligence device market even more rapidly than the most optimistic analysts’ predictions.

That said, there is reason for doubt, notes UK researcher Ovum.

HomePod plays well to Apple’s premium hardware strategy but few will care, says Ronan de Renesse, Ovum’s Practice Leader for Consumer Technology

“The only way to sell an expensive smart speaker is with advanced audio technology, the ‘smart’ aspect is mostly done in the cloud,”de Renesse tells GeoMarketing. “Amazon Echo and Google Home users, for the most part, don’t care enough about audio quality to pay an extra $150-200 and it is just not in Apple’s interest to make smart speakers at lower price points. Apple will carve out some sales in the smart speaker market with HomePod but will continue stand far behind Amazon and Google by the end of 2017.”

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president for software engineering, demonstrates the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature.

Connected Intelligence From Home To Car

In addition to its renewed focus on the connected home, Apple continued its mobile and connected car support with the coming iOS 11.

Among the new features in the iOS update for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch: in addition to iOS 10’s Support for checking car fuel, lock status, turning on lights, and activating horn with automaker apps, the forthcoming software update is promising more safety features for drivers.

In iOS 11, Apple promises to prevent distracted driving with a Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. Using location and sensors, updated iPhone’s and iPods will be able to when a user is driving and will automatically shut all notifications.

While users can create “emergency” setting for some users, allowing them to get through if they type “urgent,” others will get a message that tells the person trying to reach the driver that they’re otherwise engaged.

Apple’s enhancements to Siri and in Apple Maps, plus its ability to draw a direct line to consumers lives in the home and on-the-go, means it will have an defining effect on how marketers, agencies, and tech vendors respond to businesses’ place-based needs and information.

At the moment, hospitality, retail, and even QSR brands are examining the role that voice-activated assistants could play in complementing service and sales staffs at their respective hotels and stores.

Apple in the Connected Car.

And here too, the ability to offer the “smartest” voice, location, and connected intelligence will determine how successful Apple is in the ways the digital landscape is currently evolving.

The key categories that are also likely to be influenced by the use of voice-activation across entertainment, automotive, and consumer electronics will have to present clear improvements and differentiation within their product offerings, noted Dina Abdelrazik, Research Analyst, at Parks Associates.

“In the auto industry, voice assistants are not only a consumer-play in allowing for more human engagement and interaction with the driver but it’s also a safety play,” Abdelrazik says. “Voice commands help consumers keep their hands on the wheel instead of reaching for their smartphone or in-vehicle infotainment system.”

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