From Mass Marketing to Interactive Experience

Earlier this week, McDonald’s introduced an interactive billboard in Sweden that engaged passers-by in a game of Pong using their cell phones to control the paddle on the billboard. Those who stayed alive for 30 seconds were rewarded with a coupon for McDonald’s.

Way back in 2002, I wrote about how the film “Minority Report” used mass advertisement vehicles like billboards for personal promotions and interactions. The point of the column was to say that the future it depicted was only scary because it broadcast personal information onto a mass display. If you recall the movie, one particularly egregious example was when Tom Cruise walked into a Gap and the poster on the wall asked him if he liked the shirts he had bought previously. I’ve always maintained that this is not a scary use of personalization, but an inappropriate use of a mass marketing vehicle, in that it displayed your private information for all to see.

With the advent of mobile computing (i.e., cell phones and tablets), the same ideas presented in the movie are now being executed in a far less scary way. I’ve written a lot about QR codes lately, and how they are taking mass mediums and turning them into launching points for either personal exploration or points of sale.

The McDonald’s billboard, however, achieves something different. Instead of simply creating a public installment that pushes information or coupons to the user, it interacts with the users in a public (but non-threatening way). It uses the billboard for the “public” parts of the equation that aren’t scary to project en masse (i.e., the game itself), but keeps any other information on your personal device, so there is no fear of privacy invasion. In this way, McDonald’s uses mass media as a personal promotion, but it doesn’t cross the line that was crossed in “Minority Report.”

More importantly, brands like McDonald’s are once again realizing that their brands must become more interactive and engaging in order to compete for attention. Technology has really pushed the envelope, giving creative companies the ability to reach right into consumers’ personal devices.

Plus, McDonald’s capitalized on the “crowd mentality,” because once one person stops and stares up at a billboard, so will everyone else.

Mass Marketing in Stores Can Do the Same Thing

In 2009, I wrote an article called “In-Store Uses for Smartphones” in which I talked about how retailers were missing an opportunity to augment their in-store experiences via users’ phones and smart devices. Earlier this month, Apple introduced this concept in its stores. Armed with an iPad or iPhone, users can now find out more information on the products they are seeing in the store via their devices.

In an age where the big-box retailers are suffering because their staff consists mainly of idiots who know nothing about their products, this particular idea resonates strongly. By augmenting their mass marketing efforts with in-store configurators or other needs-based product search tools, retailers can provide a terrific in-store experience that rivals the information-gathering that customers could do at home on the Internet. Of course, they could also just train their staff better.

More Interactivity, More Information, More Personalized Attention

I am excited that major players like McDonald’s and Apple are taking the next step to provide interactive experiences to customers – using mass marketing as a launching pad for something more personal and meaningful. Apple’s version is nascent and somewhat obvious, whereas McDonald’s really branched out and tried something fun and creative. I hope that more brands find ways to bridge the gap between personal devices and interactive mass media.

Thoughts, comments, questions? Leave a message below.

Until next time…
Jack

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