What the Apple Watch Really Means for Brand Advertisers

On April 24, nine countries will have access to the Apple Watch for the first time.

According to Apple’s chief executive (CEO) Tim Cook, the product “begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology and we think our customers are going to love it.” Elsewhere online, the Apple Watch is being called “the perfect gizmo for the narcissistic.” Others still have questioned the need for it, saying“because it’s ‘cool’ or super-functional doesn’t mean it’s practical.”

Regardless of how you feel about the concept, it’s sure to bring some big changes to the mobile world. But what does the Apple Watch mean for brands? Many are already working on new smartwatch apps, including Starwood Hotels, Shazam, and Air New Zealand. On the advertising front, Midwestern grocery chain Marsh Supermarkets has announced that in partnership with mobile retail marketing platform inMarket it will extend its current iBeacon program to the Apple Watch this year. “It’s an amazing time for consumers and commerce as digital and physical experiences converge,” Todd Dipaola, CEO of inMarket, said.

Mobile ad exchange TapSense, meanwhile, is testing a programmatic advertising platform for Apple Watch ads. According to the company, the ads will combine interactive formats with hyper-local targeting. TapSense believes the watch will be useful for delivering retail store coupons, as well as an intimate user experience.

In Chicago, Matt Murphy, president and CEO of interactive marketing firm Fusion92, sees a third marketing application for the Apple Watch: cross-platform integration. “Because this is such a niche product and specific to Apple, there’ll be a lot of exploration early on as brands investigate what they’re allowed to do and how consumers are engaging with the device,” Murphy says. One possibility is an ad that “ping pongs” between the Apple Watch and iPhone. “Maybe you accept an ad and it pushes to your phone for a fuller experience, or a third-party interaction,” he says. “Depending on the capabilities, there could be rich media built into that.”

The ad world’s adoption of the device could progress quickly. It wasn’t so long ago that marketers went from desktop advertising to mobile. While that shift necessitated an entirely new approach to creative, targeting strategies, and messaging, the Apple Watch’s smaller screen won’t seem quite so daunting.

But while interactivity is an ongoing priority for digital marketers, there’s a chance that the screen will simply be perceived as too small to supply any kind of rich experience. If users are reluctant to engage and it isn’t feasible to consume ad content on the watch, Apple Watch ads will bear little resemblance to the mobile formats we use now. Murphy suggests we might even see a regression back to a click-based ad model that triggers an email message consumers can check at a later time.

When it comes to predicting the early adopters, Murphy – whose agency has produced interactive mobile and digital experiences for such companies as AT&T and Sony – points to the health care and fitness industries. The fact that the watch touches the user’s skin, coupled with the potential to incorporate sensors that could record blood pressure, body temperature, and other measurements of health, is in line with the current medical community trend toward leveraging wearable devices.

Fusion92 intends to pursue Apple Watch advertising, and you can be sure that it isn’t alone. Brands would be wise to hang back some, however, both to be certain that the device aligns with their marketing objectives, and to follow Apple’s lead. “Brands will always seek new opportunities, but they’re still beholden to whatever Apple allows,” Murphy says. “Apple does control the ecosystem.”

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