The Internet of Things: Let’s Get Phygital

Advertising and communications are now crossing over from the virtual to real world and vice versa, through connected objects and devices that allow physical objects to interact with digital platforms.

The term used to describe this trend is “Phygital” – a convergence of the consumers’ physical and digital world.

This is made possible by the Internet of Things – which refers to connected objects that trigger a physical reaction from a digital action or a physical sensor that when triggered, results in a digital output. It is now possible to embed sensors on most physical objects to allow these objects to “talk” to us via digital interfaces, making the physical world a type of information system itself.

This symbiotic relationship allows brands to make themselves more tangible to their consumers by connecting their digital presence to an immersive, real-world experience.

So how can brands and agencies leverage on phygital experiences? Here are some examples:

1. Amplifying an event

  • The early stages of the Internet of Things revolved primarily around RFID tags. In Israel, Coca-Cola created the Like Machine using RFID tags to bring the virtual world of Facebook into the real world of the Coke Village by allowing guests at the event to share their activities and experiences seamlessly with their Facebook friends.
  • In a role reversal, Brazilian fashion retailer C&A created a store with real-time “likes” counters on its clothes hangers. The like data was taken from C&A’s Facebook page where the clothes were listed for people to interact with, allowing customers at the store to see how many people online think that a particular product was a good buy.

2. Allowing digital participation with a real-world event

  • McDonald’s created Pick N Play, an interactive outdoor campaign in Stockholm where consumers could interact with a large billboard using their mobile phones and play games on the billboard to win McDonald’s treats and prizes.
  • Coca-Cola as part of project rebrief created a mobile ad that allows users to literally send a Coke and connect with someone on the other side of the world. The Coke gets delivered via a vending machine at the selected location and the random receiver can then respond with a text or video message back to the sender, completing the connection.

3. Unlocking brand experiences

  • Granata, a pet food company in Germany placed a billboard at a high traffic area where pet owners regularly walk their dogs. The billboard was for Granata Snack Check, which dispenses a small amount of Granata Pet dog food for the dog to eat when the owner checks in at the location via Foursquare.
  • In a similar sampling exercise, BOS Ice Tea allows customers to try free samples from a tweet-activated vending machine. To get a free sample, all you had to do was to tweet a unique brand hashtag.
  • Even advertising agencies have gotten into the act with JWT Brazil creating Drink Time Sheet, which unlocks a fridge of beer once everyone at the agency completes their timesheet.

4. Product synergies

  • BakerTweet was developed to help busy bakers tell the world that something hot and fresh had just come out of the oven. A simple device that tweets to all the baker’s followers on Twitter to tell them that a fresh batch of buns were just ready.
  • Nike built their new Hyperdunk shoes that has sensors and Nike+ technology embedded into the shoes to track a player’s every move during games and syncs directly to their iPhones providing statistics and game feedback.

2013 has been hailed as the breakout year for the Internet of Things at CES. There are many product ideas that can be leveraged by brands to create synergistic brand experiences that truly add value to their consumers in a way that only the brand can. Take Pintofeed, a mobile app connected to a food dispensing machine that allows you to feed your pets remotely without always having to rush home. Sensors on the machine confirm that your pet is fed and the device also helps you monitor and control your pet’s food intake and even compare it to the national average. This is a digital/physical utility that truly solves a consumer’s need for pet owners. Now just imagine if a pet food brand had created this.

How do brands and agencies go about creating phygital experiences?

The most important thing to know is that all of what we are referring to now goes beyond traditional advertising and communications. To be able to create these phygital experiences, agencies need to move away from an advertising output to creating actual physical objects and installations that can be deployed at the right locations to facilitate these interactions. This helps extend the real value of a truly great idea because it supports the notion that if something does not yet exist, we can just build it, both digitally (e.g., mobile interface) or physically (an installation).

This requires agencies to adopt a technology and innovation model and a maker’s culture that moves beyond art and copy to include software and hardware engineering and the knowledge of how to use open source hardware and popular microcontrollers such as Arduino and the Raspberry Pi processor.

With the advent of more devices such as Google Glass, it’s just a matter of time before we see, feel, and act with our physical and digital world as one.

More and more objects are being embedded with sensors allowing us to communicate with them. In addition, more people are also allowing themselves to be embedded with sensors – some in our phone and some on objects that we wear like the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up Wristband that allow our physical lives to be transmitted as packets of data in which can be used to communicate with physical objects. The opportunities are boundless for brands to leverage on such technology, data, and behavior and it will be exciting to see what comes out next.

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