SXSW 2014: Connected TVs and the Future of Sports

Today at the Driskill Hotel, Hank Adams, CEO of Sportvision, gave a compelling talk on the affect connected TVs can have on the way we consumer entertainment, particularly sports.

For those who might be unfamiliar, Sportvision is behind a number of amazing augmented reality experiences built into broadcast sports. These include the yellow first down line in football and the strikezone overlay in baseball, as well as the overlays following the cars in NASCAR.

But what the user sees is only the tip of the iceberg. For instance, in Major League Baseball, they have detailed data on every pitch thrown during the entire season, including velocity and spin. This data is made available to teams and they use it for training purposes. The Yankees alone have 6 data scientists on staff working with this and other data.

Mr. Adams pointed out that “the history of media is the history of customization”, and that all this data that we have can be used to enhance live television experiences when televisions are attached to the Internet.

Some interesting ideas for the world of sports:
– As you watch a game, your fantasy players are highlighted and their sports displays their current fantasy points
– A widget overlaying a NASCAR broadcast provides the live status of your favorite driver
– The ability to toggle the strikezone overlay in baseball, including the hot zones of where a particular hitter at bat likes to hit the ball

Obviously, this sort of functionality can expand well beyond sports. What you see on live television is only part of the story; there’s more detail and background information that can be surfaced on any topic, but the ability to personalize that experience can make it exceptionally valuable for users.

The question then becomes how to work within the framework of the current model of broadcast television, as it is key within that model not to divert attention from the ad breaks. The answer remains to be seen, but perhaps the ads themselves can be augmented in interesting ways.

SXSW 2014: Big Data, Personalized Stories

We hear often about the power of “big data” to do magic things like identify supply-chain problems, drive conversion, optimize direct mail and other impressive tasks. But what effect could big data have on storytelling? After all, isn’t that the other side of marketing besides the actual technologies used to deliver the stories? Today at the Sheraton, amidst an audience made up almost entirely of marketers and product managers (as determined by a show of hands), Francois Ajenstat from Tableau Software and Eric Shoup from held an interesting panel discussion about “Big Data” as it relates to storytelling.

Mr. Ajenstat stressed the need to try and break out of displaying data simply in rows and columns and show information more visually, as a way to help tell a story. Marketers today have access to mountains of data: purchase activity, social media engagement, device GPS data and even government data. Beyond simply using this data for business decision-making, could it be used to tell a story back t consumers? He described data as a new form of multimedia that brands could turn to as a way to enrich their own content. As an example of data telling a powerful story visually, he cited a TED talk by Hans Rosling that used data visualizations to challenge the audience’s perception of global health and trends.

Mr. Shoup showcased a new product recently launched by called Story View. The new tool draws upon Ancestry’s 10 petabytes of data (across 55 million family trees) and assembles what it knows about a person into a sort of timeline. It effectively pieces together a biography, with dates and places and images assembled to tell a person’s life story (as best they can) in a linear fashion. They used A/B testing to try different layouts and templates, and used the number of social shares as a metric to measure whether a given approach was working.

The speakers agreed on this tip for turning data into stories: Start with the question; what are you trying to get at? Then see how many data elements you can you remove and still answer the question. In short, Simplicity helps the storytelling.

Also discussed was technologies such as those offered by Narrative Science, which automatically generates prose summaries (e.g. of sporting events) based purely on raw data. A potential application of this technology could be to auto-generate direct mail or mass e-mail based on big data customer profile, changing the narrative text on the fly for each customer.


SXSW 2014 Preview: The Lab’s Panel Picks

It’s that time of year again; mid-March means [maybe] less snow and SXSW Interactive. Startups, technologists, pundits, marketers, engineers and BBQ aficionados will descend upon Austin for several days of waiting in line for panels and several nights waiting in line for parties. The Lab will be down in Austin with a crack team of scouts, strategists and content creators.

There are literally hundreds of panels to choose from, and we have our eyes on dozens and dozens of them. But for the sake of brevity, we’re going to give you our three picks for each day of the festival. These are the three panels, for each day, that we think are most worth attending.

We are making these picks through the lens of marketing and the goals of Mediabrands’ clients. There will undoubtedly be some fantastic panels on responsive web development and maybe drones. We’re here to focus on brands and audiences, and thus our picks:

Friday March 7th


Saturday March 8th


Sunday March 9th


Monday March 10th


Tuesday March 11th


If you make it to these, we hope to see you there. Maybe we’ll grab some BBQ afterwards.

Experimental Ad Product: Sponsored Micro-games At Point-Of-Sale

Here at the Lab, we are always looking for new ways to capture the attention of audiences using emerging technologies. We ask ourselves where there may be opportunities for brands to influence purchase decisions in new ways. We engage in thought experiments such as “Would adding ultra-short games to a purchase flow be an annoyance or an opportunity? Could they be an chance for a brand to engage with a user in a mutually beneficial value exchange?”

In parallel, we evaluate new technologies based not just on what they do, but what they could do with some creativity applied. Sometimes, we see a technology that has little or nothing to do with advertising and ask ourselves whether there is a way for brands to utilize it in a new way. Since we have a perspective on such a wide range of technologies and services, we often find ourselves connecting the proverbial dots between them to create whole new ad product prototypes.

A few months ago during a routine scouting mission we met a company named Vengo. They are a nimble NYC-based start-up out to create high-tech vending machines with small form-factors optimized to go everywhere from offices to the back of taxis. We liked their demo and it was very nice-looking, but it was a pretty straight-forward vending machine purchase user experience. But we took note of their touchscreen interface and flexible platform and began to wonder – is there a unique way a brand could play in this space? Can we do something fun and engaging while this machine has a consumer’s attention? Could this even be a new type of ad product?

We kept in touch with Vengo and bounced ideas around within our own creative team. What resulted was the idea of incorporating sponsored micro-games into the purchase flow of the vending machine. Now when we say micro-game, our requirement was that the game would have to take less than 15 seconds. The reason a consumer might engage is that there’s a payoff: do well enough in the game and you get a discount on your purchase.

By sponsoring the game (i.e. covering the cost of the discount), a brand gets a consumer’s focused attention for a short but intense period of time. Since the vending machines are all networked, the different games can be deployed to different machines and swapped out at will. And thus you effectively have created a new kind of out-of-home ad product, which could easily be bought programmatically across a big enough footprint. The CPM would be relatively high, but so would the engagement – if the content were strong enough.

We came back to Vengo with the idea and they loved it. So after collaborating on the precise design, game mechanics and form factor of the test unit, they developed a prototype. The unit is now up and running in our NYC Lab and has been warmly received, especially by those who have figured out how to make the demo dispense treats without using a real credit card.

A user can come up to the vending machine and buy treats as they normally would using the touchscreen. But our prototype has a call-to-action in the upper left to play the “Snapple Imposter” game. If the user opts to play the game, they are presented with 8 different bottles of Snapple. They then have ten seconds to identify which of the eight is a fake flavor. As time ticks by, the discount you win decreases. Get the correct answer quickly and you get a big discount. If it takes you 9 seconds to figure it out, then you get a smaller discount. If you get it wrong or time expires, you get no discount. Regardless of whether the user wins in this scenario, the brand wins. As the user plays the game, they have to think really hard about the Snapple brand and which flavors they offer or would realistically be flavors they might make. We would possit that 10 seconds of intense focus is worth more than a passing glance at a 30 second TV spot.

Imagine a new type of ad unit that could be deployed to vending machines and other points-of-sale giving users the opportunity to exchange 10 seconds of fun for a discount. And this would be deployed into the middle of a purchase flow, so a brand is getting to the consumer right when they’ve got their wallets out and they’re in a buying mood. It’s a juicy moment for a consumer to hear a brand’s message.

Excited marketers, please note: this is not a real product out in the world yet. There is no programmatically buyable network of micro-games on vending machines to be had at present. But the Lab is happy to have dreamt up an experiment and get it made into a real thing that can get us all thinking about the future.

As for Vengo, they were happy with how our experiment has turned out as well. Per Brian Shimmerlik, CEO of Vengo: “Tapping into the collective creativity of the people at the lab has been a huge asset for Vengo. The lab gets building tech from scratch and they understand the needs of large brands. The lab is a valuable hub where the two commingle and hang out.”

Check out the short video below for a sense of what the user experience is like.

NRF 2014: Recap of Retail’s Big Show

NRF is the National Retail Foundation, the world’s largest retail trade association. Every January, they put on “Retail’s Big Show”, a conference and exposition centered on “all things retail”. For many of our clients retail is critically important, so every year the Lab attends the show and logs both trends and interesting particular relevant technologies.

This year we found a couple key themes we feel will be important for marketers, especially those that operate physical retail stores or sell their products in them. Some major changes are starting to transform the way people navigate retail, and not just “showrooming”. Although not widespread yet, these changes are helpful indicators of things to come. We also found a handful of interesting specific technologies that could make an impact on retail environments in the near term for those looking to increase footfall, optimize their stores or boost basket size.

Download Full Report: NRF 2014 – IPG Media Lab Recap

CES 2014 Recap

Each year, the IPG Media Lab travels to CES to explore the changes happening in technology that will affect the way brands reach audiences in the future. This recap summarizes some of the most important themes we found , and gives examples of specific technologies that illustrate them. Our focus is to look at these themes and technologies through the lens of media, marketing, advertising and consumer behavior.

Download Full Report: CES 2014 IPG Media Lab Recap

The State of the NFC Market

Today in New York City, the NFC & Mobile Money Summit kicked off with many talks of interest including a panel on the state of NFC. Organized by the GSMA, the same organization behind the annual Mobile World Congress, the event featured a couple dozen exhibitors as well as an engaging conference track.

The aforementioned NFC panel was well-attended, and featured speakers from three continents discussing their thoughts on where things stand with NFC. The bottom line, not to spoil the ending of this recap, is that we are still in the very early stages of the technology. All but one of the panelists was primarily payments-focused, and there’s a fair case to be made that this is a grounded perspective. But no one could boast enormous NFC adoption and a mature state of the technology just yet.

The first speaker was J.H. Kah of SK Planet, which is a recent spinoff of South Korea’s SK Telecom. It operates its own app store and payment infrastructure. It focuses on developing capabilities for mobile credit cards, mobile debit card and mobile transportation card. That said, he did acknowledge that in order for payments to take off, NFC had to be better integrated into people’s lives. SK Planet is working hard on the engineering challenges in particular of putting the secure element for NFC payments inside carrier-issued SIM cards, such that carriers can control mobile payments.

From Norway’s Telenor, Viktoria Erngard introduced the audience to the carrier’s new Valyou platform. The Valyou platform is a contactless payments mechanism launching in Oslo this week. Telenor ultimately hopes to leverage this sort of technology worldwide to their 150 million customers. Valyou is a mobile wallet at heart, tied at launch to the major Norwegian bank DNB, with more such banks to follow in the near future. Ms. Erngard urged the audience to have patience, as customer uptake of this technology worldwide may be slower than expected.

Mikhail Damiani of Blue Bite brought a marketing perspective into the mix. His company has been involved in many NFC-powered out-of-home campaigns. They did a Samsung campaign where device users could tap a bus shelter sign to download a free song or eBook. For the latest Star Trek movie, users could tap a poster in the movie theater and download longer-form exclusive trailer. In another interesting execution, this time for Toyota, users who tapped out-of-home signage in malls could launch an HTML5-based augmented reality experience.

Blue Bite has even attempted to upgrade the advertising experience of airport security bins. NFC tap points in these bins during one campaign launched ads for the Clear security program. They also rely on what they call an “mTag”. This is a combination of an NFC sticker with a QR Code, to accommodate those comfortable with either. As a baseline, Mr. Damiani recommends that for any NFC-based campaign, the best practice is for the payoff to be relevant to the context of the ad, valuable to the user, and exclusive.

The last speaker was Maxim Sidorov from Russian MNO VimpelCom. In June 2013, VimpelCom launched a PayPass pilot in partnership with AlphaBank and MasterCard. They are also rolling out a SIM-card based pilot of a mobile solution for the Moscow Metro. Their view of the NFC ecosystem encompasses SIM cards, handsets, POS terminals and payment sources. It is a very SIM-card-based, payments-centric perspective on NFC. Mr. Sidorov directly addressed the ongoing divide between telecoms and device-makers over where to store secure payment data for NFC transactions. He advocated for the carriers to manage this via the SIM card, since they know how to drive mass scale adoption of technologies and have the power to adopt and enforce standards. He lamented that competition between these points of view could damage the whole NFC space and delay wide adoption.

During the panel discussion, everyone agreed that their programs were all early-stage and there’s no big consumer uptake yet. Even Blue Bite acknowledged that in their “mTag”-based out-of-home signage, only 30-40% of interactions were NFC rather than QR-code based.

Interestingly, considering mobile and smartphones are the focus of the event, it was 74 minutes into the 90-minute session that Apple was first mentioned. The sense on the panel was that Apple hasn’t adopted NFC yet because consumers are not yet asking for it. One theory is that as transit systems adopt contactless payments, consumer demand may rise.

And thus, in summary, the space continues to inch along. There are lots of interesting innovations brewing, but the inflection point of consumer demand for NFC has not yet arrived. That said, it is exciting to think about all the possibilities that lie ahead once adoption does begin to scale.

Exclusive Movie Review: “The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live”

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for a movie that came out almost 25 years ago. It’s also a bit more exhaustive than these reviews tend to be, but we’re making an educated guess you won’t actually go see the movie (which is unfortunate).

Right up until showtime, my colleague Myles and I were not 100% sure we were even in the right place. It was 4:45pm on a Tuesday in a 25-screen Times Square multiplex, and we were the only ones in the entire theater. There was no “NCM First Look” pre-preview content, just a fairly audible buzzing sound. Then, to our relief, the lights dimmed and the show started.

Thus began our expedition to experience Disney’s augmented re-release of “The Little Mermaid”. What made this special, and why we were there, was that Disney is experimenting with an interactive big-screen format meant to bring more kids to the movies. They call it: “The Little Mermaid: Second Screen Live!” I’m not a fan of their naming this a “Second Screen” experience. “Second Screen” is industry-speak within advertising and entertainment, and people in those industries too often assume the general public knows what we’re talking about. The most egregious expression of this pet peeve of mine is in the liberal use of the word “content” in marketing communications. “Hey Jill, I saw the most awesome exclusive content last night” said no one, ever.

In any case, this Disney experiment is titled such that you’re meant to know you can experience the movie on a big screen and a screen in your hands simultaneously. While using your iPad during a movie is almost always strongly discouraged,  this experience is meant to be an exception. Not only are you encouraged to have an iPad, not having one seriously detracts from your ability to enjoy the movie.

When “The Little Mermaid” came out, I was too old for it, and my colleague Myles was not yet born. So we came at the experience from two different perspectives. He also had a built-in leg-up on me vis a vis the in-movie trivia, since I had never seen the movie before.

I had pre-loaded the “Little Mermaid SSL” app onto two Lab iPads and had them fully charged, ready to go. As we waited for the movie to start, we found the provided “SSLIVE1” Wi-Fi access point, but figured out pretty fast it had no uplink to the Internet. When the show starts, the actress who does the voice of Ariel comes on and walks you through the required iPad setup procedures. She tells you to turn Airplane Mode on (to conserve battery?) and then turn Wi-Fi back on, then connect to the access point “SSLIVE1”.

IMG_0013Up on the movie screen, they explain how to set up your iPad


I suspect the Wi-Fi part of this is not to transmit content, so much as it is to relay players’ scores back to a central computer running the show. More on that later.

It appeared as though the iPad app stayed in sync with the movie via audio watermarking. A few times I exited out of the app to check something else on the iPad, and when I went back in I saw it “Listening …” and then syncing right back up.

Throughout the movie, the relationship between what’s going on in the movie and all the activities on your iPad is guided by the characters Sebastian and Flounder. In fact, at the beginning, you are asked to join either “Team Sebastian” or “Team Flounder” (“Team Edward” was not an option). During moments of sustained lack of dialogue, an extra layer of voice-over has been added to the movie wherein Sebastian and Flounder banter about the iPad-based games you’ve been playing. When characters in the movie are talking, they switch to communicating with you via captions at the bottom of the movie screen, written as if Sebastian and Flounder are texting each other. I thought that was actually a pretty clever solution for maintaining continuity without drowning out the actual movie.

Periodically throughout the movie a caption of this type announces a new game is coming up, along with a 5-second countdown clock up on the movie screen. Then a game happens down on the iPad. Some games were very directly linked to the action in the movie (e.g. “What Happens Next?”) and others were just skill games (e.g. “Pop the bubbles as fast as you can”). One game, somewhere in between, had you tilting the iPad back and forth to right the sailors’ ship during the big storm towards the beginning of the movie.

Here are some screenshots of game examples:

IMG_0019“What Happens Next” – rapid-fire game that follows the movie closely


IMG_0031What doesn’t belong in this scene? In this example, you had to find three things.


IMG_0023Straight-up multiple choice trivia


IMG_0035A maze!  The maze themes more or less followed what was going on in the movie


As you play these games, you earn points. Periodically, Flounder or Sebastian chimes in to show you the running scores of Team Sebastian vs. Team Flounder. Since Myles and I were the only ones playing along, this conveniently reflected our individual scores as well.

Towards the end of the movie, when Ursula makes her big devious move, The points of Team Flounder and Team Sebastian are united under the banner of “Team Ariel”, and a “Team Ursula” appears. It stands to reason that Team Ursula consists of just Ursula. At the climax of the movie, as the action on the big screen oscillates from hope, to dashed hope, and then eventual triumph of good over evil, Team Ursula’s score, reflected on the iPad artificially jumps ahead of Team Ariel then back down, then ahead again, and finally disappears. Team Ariel then breaks back down to its two components as the movie ends. We felt the way the point scoring changed and then changed back got a little confusing and wasn’t explained thoroughly enough. We figured it out but that’s because we have some sense of how they were trying to line up with the movie narrative and get the kids to root for Ariel. That said, I’m pleased to report that when all was said and done I overcame my trivia disadvantage to beat Myles 31,371 to 29,091. Go Team Flounder!

The games do get a bit repetitive after a while. Although there are at least half a dozen that I can remember, they come at you pretty relentlessly, and each one is played at least 3-4 times. The games also can distract you from key points in the movie.

I think my biggest overall gripe with the experience is when Ursula finally gets killed(?) I missed how it happened because I was busy playing a game on the iPad. Also of note, a couple times during the movie they actually freeze-frame it and let you complete a puzzle on the iPad. Great if you have an iPad, but probably a little irksome if you don’t.

There are also several fun less competitive touches to the experience. When the characters break out into the song, kids are encouraged to sing along (“Crab-E-Oke”) and the lyrics appear on the iPad in time with the song:

IMG_0022Under The Sea


Also, periodically throughout the movie, kids on either team are encouraged to cheer for their side. This is a great way to prep them for a future rooting for sports teams.

I felt as though overall this was a cute, fun, thought-provoking experience. It’s a shame no one else was in the theater with us, especially any kids. Myles pointed out that an 8-year-old with an iPad would really enjoy this sort of thing a whole lot. We both felt it was a very interesting use of the technology and a good way to breathe some life into a classic movie everyone’s seen before.

If you know a kid who is in the right age group for a Disney cartoon and likes the iPad, this is definitely 90 minutes well spent. Likewise, if you are a UX person working anywhere near the second-screen experience space, I’d highly recommend trying to run out and catch this movie before it is out of theaters. The experience just won’t be the same on home video. Act fast, based on the attendance we saw you may not have much of a chance left.


Thoughts On iBeacon, BLE & NFC

Much has been made this week about Apple’s “iBeacon” functionality baked into iOS 7. It wasn’t part of the 5C/5S keynote, it’s more of a wonky technical detail. But some have embraced it with exuberance as an “NFC-killer”.

But first, for the uninitiated, an iBeacon primer. iBeacon is an Apple flavor of Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE). BLE is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a new form of Bluetooth that doesn’t drain your battery nearly as fast. The trade-off, though is less data throughput. So no streaming media over it, or even your voice. It is designed to transmit very small packets of information. “What good is that?” you might ask. Well, if that small bit of information is “you are standing in the cereal aisle” or “here is a short URL that links to content relevant to this particular spot” then there could be many useful applications.

With BLE-enabled devices an apps, your device can be always listening for these sorts of cues, and not drop to 0% battery after 2 hours. If your phone is always listening, you are always reachable with contextually relevant ads, offers and other content. And that’s great, as long as what you are pinging people with is relevant enough for them to not mind (or enjoy!) getting it. I’m in the cereal aisle, I get a great offer that is relevant to cereal. I enter the European Masters exhibit at the Met, and my phone is pinged with a link to a synopsis of the exhibit.

BLE is also great for “Internet of Things” applications, such as objects with embeddable sensors. It’s all well and good to have a gadget that absorbs all sorts of great information about your body, or the world around it, but if transmitting that information out so it gets to the Internet drains the battery too fast, your smart object becomes a constantly-recharging pain. With BLE your SmartGadget can relay data to your mobile device (or a base station of some sort), which can in turn bounce that information up to the Internet as needed.

Some have argued this technology could be useful to mobile payments, but I’m not so sure about that. The infrastructure lift is a bit harder in that case, because the base station in the store needs to recognize the unique hardware ID of your phone, and tie that back to a specific basket of goods. Then it would have to recognize that a payment has been made. It’s a lot of moving parts.

With NFC, this equation is simpler because the device tapping the terminal is clearly the one paying for the items in the basket being tallied. While BLE is good at addressing ambient conditions, NFC is optimized for more deliberate and considered actions. In short, while BLE is optimized for a 10 foot radius around you, NFC is optimized for the thing you are touching right now. These don’t supplant each other, they are inherently complimentary.

If you ask five people for explanations of why Apple has not yet embraced NFC, you’ll likely get seven answers. Perhaps the most plausible one is that Apple doesn’t want to take the leap until there are enough tappable experiences out int he world. They don’t want to get everyone excited to go tap things, then go out into the world and find nothing to tap. Better to let Google take the hit on that user experience disappointment, their rationale might go. Or perhaps they really do think it is a passing fad. No one outside Infinite Loop can know for sure, but either way it is important not to read too much into it based on the soft launch of iBeacon technology.

Branded Photobooth Apps

In my virtual travels kicking the tires of various apps and technologies, I’ve come across a couple branded photobooth apps that have resonated with me and I thought were well-executed. They’re both simple, fun, and create earned media which in turn promotes a TV show.

First there is KMco’s “Dead Yourself” app (iOS/Android) which allows you to take a photo of yourself and transform it into a zombie photo reminiscent of the Walkers from AMC’s “Walking Dead”. You can then share that image on social media or e-mail it to your friends.

There’s also the “Duck Dynasty Beard Booth” app (iOS/Android) which celebrates the A&E hit “Duck Dynasty”. In this app, you can superimpose one of the famous beards from the show onto your face and then snap a picture. The photo can then be e-mailed or shared.

And when these photos are e-mailed or shared, this forms a classic case of “earned” media, wherein audiences are using social media to spread your message without you having to pay them directly. I add that last qualifier because strictly speaking, a brand has to pay to get these apps built. But once they are built, there are few if any ongoing costs as the message goes out and spreads.

The above apps are special in a sense, because they represent a brand giving users a special dedicated & branded tool for self expression. This differs from, say, an Instagram photo contest, in that the platform is neutral and the actual image can only be so branded. A specialized tool can strike a much bigger tone with brand loyalists and create special media that those without the tool (i.e. less engaged audience members ) cannot create. As such, these sorts of apps become a powerful mechanism of brand advocacy that [when executed well] can trump a simple text-based social mention.

When a friend of a dedicated fan sees the cool picture that’s been created, they can become drawn in, wanting to create their own similar photo. And as they do, they become much more likely to care about watching “Walking Dead’ or “Duck Dynasty” if they didn’t care already. They in turn then become advocates, because what is the point of making one of these pictures without sharing it with your friends?

This sort of campaign tactic isn’t right for all brands. You need a brand that sparks the imagination of your audience and makes them feel like creating and sharing. That just doesn’t work for some product categories, but it does for many such as entertainment in particular. These apps also cost some money to build, so a plan needs to be in place with social media objectives to justify the initial cost outlay.

But if those prerequisites can be met, a branded UGC app could be just the right thing to anchor a brand’s short-term earned media strategy.