It was Larry Page's Willy Wonka moment: The Google CEO was handing out pairs of Google Glasses to anyone who could dream up a novel way to use the device. All they had to do was submit the idea via Twitter or Google Plus and pony up $1,500.
More than a few agency execs ended up with golden Glass tickets, and they're toying with how the technology could be used in marketing.
Ian Schafer, CEO at digital agency Deep Focus, was awarded a pair after posting on his G+ account: "#ifihadglass no matter how far away I was from home, my family would be close." MDC Partners-owned KBS+ created a website devoted to its employees' contest submissions, and Google greenlit eight of them. Dave Meeker of Aegis-owned Isobar got ahold of the eyewear after stating he wanted to build apps on it for clients. Dentsu's Jeff Hinson snagged a pair for tweeting he'd use Glass to develop an interactive marketing campaign for client New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. And two employees at digital agency Huge won the coveted Glasses.
"Agencies are always excited to figure out if they can be the first to do something," said Scott Ross, senior VP-executive technology director at Critical Mass. "There's a huge curiosity factor."
What role marketers can play on Glass is unclear.
Google has insisted it will not permit display ads on the platform. But creating branded apps seems possible: At the I/O conference last week, Google announced that a number of social networks and media outlets -- Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Evernote, CNN and Elle -- are building apps.
"We need to figure out how to make a digital experience on Glass that's not an ad," said Ray Velez, chief technology officer at digital agency Razorfish. He envisions using Glass to foster interactions among a brand's community members.
While shops ponder uses for Glass, Google's long-term plans for the device and importantly, its monetization strategy, are unclear.
"It's early days, and Glass is always evolving with feedback from users in our Explorer program," a Google spokesman said.
For now, Google has mandated that all Glassware (software built on the platform) be free, but that hasn't stopped the VC community from making bets on the device making money from apps. Two big firms, Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last month partnered with Google Ventures to invest in companies developing Glassware.
Ronny Conway, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, predicted the glasses could have B2B uses, such as allowing physicians to quickly pull up patient records. But when asked about the potential implications for brands and marketers, Mr. Conway said he was "not sure."
Mike DiGiovanni, a technologist at Isobar, has developed two Glass apps, but neither are for clients. He noticed that there was no lock screen for the device -- meaning if it were stolen, someone could possibly access personal information. So he crafted Bulletproof, an app that locks the device the moment the glasses are removed. (The only way to regain access is through a series of swipes and taps that the user sets up.) Mr. DiGiovanni is also behind Winky, a Glass app that lets users take photos with a bat of an eyelash.
For all the excitement in Silicon Valley, there are serious questions about Glass' mainstream appeal. There are only about 10,000 pairs out in the world, and Google hasn't announced a public-release date. Already users are being mocked as "glassholes," and some public places, including restaurants in Dublin and casinos in Las Vegas, have said they will ban the eyewear over privacy concerns.
And Congress last week wrote a letter to Google's CEO, Mr. Page, over concerns the technology could infringe on the privacy of the "average American."
That hasn't stopped agencies and clients from dreaming about how the device could be used in marketing.
Agency execs say Glass could be especially transformative in retail. Workers could use the device to get product information and tell consumers how much of a certain product was left in stock.
"Glass is the perfect way to tie real-world analytics into overall advertiser targeting," said Krishna Subramanian, chief marketing officer of mobile-marketing company Velti. "It can gather data around location and context, the most valuable asset for cross-platform targeting."
Travel and hospitality could also benefit: Google Glass could direct wearers to nearby landmarks or call up bar and restaurant listings.
Mark Romig, president-CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., isn't wasting any time. He's working with Dentsu digital shop 360i to weave Glass into a $4 million summer-tourism push. Potential visitors can use the eyewear to experience what it's like to "walk the streets, see the architecture, taste the food and hear the music," he said.