Let's Think Before We Pay-Per-Gaze

We Don't Want to Kill the Market Potential of Wearable Computing

By Published on .

Todd Cullen, Ogilvy & Mather
Todd Cullen, Ogilvy & Mather

Google was recently awarded a patent enabling the search giant to sell advertising on Google Glass. The rates would be set according to the number and intensity of ad views in the virtual reality-like world Glass has created, and Google would measure levels of engagement through the device's ability to detect pupil dilation. Bigger pupils = stronger interest.

Imagine the future "Gaze-fraud" industry! Firms would ensure that the looks our ads get are real and not augmented by crafty ad-fraudsters secretly shining penlights in users' eyes. Apparently, "pay-per-gaze" will revolutionize the advertising world.

Seriously, marketers -- can't we do better than this?

Like it or not, wearable computing is here -- now. We've already begun to tiptoe into this new reality with fitness trackers, smart scales, sleep monitoring apps, wearable cameras, GPS watches and dozens of other products and apps. Our smart phones are getting smarter and they will, in conjunction with all of these new devices, take advantage of massive advances in mobile processors, microscopic sensors and cloud infrastructure to deliver experiences that seemed to belong to a perpetual future. But they also enable us to collect thousands of new forms of data, data that is more intensely personal than we can possibly imagine. This will transform most consumers into walking, talking, data-generators.

Setting aside the massive social, individual, ethical, legal and comfort issues, all of which are far beyond the scope of this article, we as marketers need to answer one crucial question: What to do with all of this data? The quantified-self movement is charting one interesting course. Personal analytics systems allow users to collect the data they are creating (or consuming) and use it to make incremental positive behavioral changes. Greater knowledge driven by data could change how we eat, work, play, learn, stay fit -- and, yes -- shop.

Current products, like the Basis B1 activity tracker, Nike+ SportWatch GPS and FuelBand, Jawbone's Up Band and the FitBit One, are designed to integrate seamlessly -- even fashionably -- into your lifestyle while subtly tracking motion, activity, and vital signs. The Withings Smart Body Analyzer goes even further. It tracks metrics like weight, body composition, heart rate, and air quality while keeping tabs on movement, location and behavior. Apps and open source dashboards can be used to analyze and learn from their data.

As is only proper in our social world, these products link the user to a broader community. Personal digital ecosystems like these enable communities of users to work together, sharing ideas, best practices, product recommendations and encouragement. They share their data within the community and post hacks and workarounds to customize the experience.

However, we are still ticking down to the real explosion. Soon Google Glass won't be alone. Apple will enter this space in the next several months, and it will, undoubtedly, be followed by others. Users will connect their device and app worlds to these emerging systems. Current QS enthusiasts will bring these new devices into their existing communities, but they will be working with already-established privacy, data-sharing and functionality expectations. They will be disappointed. The game is about to be altered irrevocably, as these giants seek to commercialize their investments by monetizing audiences.

They're not the only ones. From a marketer's perspective, this new class of data is a goldmine. Just think what we can do with minute-by-minute tracking of body movements, physical reactions to external stimulus (like ads!), weight and body changes and geo-location. We'll have instant access to the data, in its raw and analyzed forms, linked to an awareness of how people are using the insights they develop to change their behavior and improve their lives.

Still, the QS community does not seem to care if marketers have a seat at the table or access to this data. If, as we can agree, a "pay-per-gaze" system isn't quite the right approach, what is? And what are the implications for marketers so that they don't blow it with ham-handed moves like monetizing eye movements and pupil diameter?

We don't want to kill the market potential of wearable computing as we did with web ads. We must consider who owns this data and how it can be used properly to add value to consumers' lives while honoring their privacy. And how do marketers earn the right to join this new reality?

Todd Cullen is global chief data officer at Ogilvy & Mather.

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