Why Microsoft's Xbox Kinect Is Not Likely to Have Ads Yet

Speech-and-Movement Platform Ripe for Interactive Ads, but Marketers Slow to Adopt

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- With Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, players become human controllers. So why aren't advertisers rushing to harness Kinect's speech-and-movement-recognition technology to get gamers to quite literally interact with their brands?

For all the talk about Kinect being "game changing" -- and it is in the console world -- the device has yet to significantly alter the landscape for advertisers still grappling with how to incorporate it into marketing. The few brands that have leveraged it in their campaigns are dipping their toes into motion tracking, rather than diving head first.

It's not the technological barrier to entry or the cost of the production holding them back, but rather the novelty of having essentially an augmented-reality ad campaign connected to a brand. "It's a new medium and like any new medium, it takes time for marketers to figure out the best way to integrate it," said Mike Reeder of Razorfish, who works on accounts for Nike, Levi's, Best Buy and, yes, Xbox.

Mr. Reeder believes it will be agency outsiders that will lead the way with ingenious uses of Xbox. "When you look out in the space right now, you're beginning to see examples of people finding creative uses for the Kinect platform. What will happen is this creativity will bleed over to marketing and you'll begin to see brands integrate Kinect into their marketing efforts. Right now, it almost seems too fantastic to be real for marketers."

It will take some imaginative and far-thinking Mad Men to get brands to give something worthwhile to consumers when it comes to including motion tracking and 3-D in a campaign -- think Tom Cruise in "Minority Report."

"Kinect is a new, radical form of interaction that brands are likely not accustomed to, and so it's a shift in the mindset of how brands can be integrated into the experience," said Matthew Szymczyk, CEO of augmented-reality shop Zugara. "Kinect technology can now offer a much deeper brand interaction and experience, but Kinect itself is just the catalyst for the augmented-reality movement in terms of the shift of how consumers will expect to interact with information in the future."

While there are many advertisers who are willing to do sponsorships inside some games -- such as branding the bowling pins inside of the bowling games -- there are just a few participating with the physical interaction between the brand and the player. Two brands that have tested the waters are General Motors and Burger King, both of which created campaigns that require the consumers to move in order to interact with the brand.

GM's Chevy Volt is one of the cars available in the Xbox "Joyride" game and players can "drive" the car by holding onto the pretend steering wheel. The BK campaign is aimed at kids who play the "Kinectimals" game. When a player holds up a plush toy from a BK Kids Meal in front of the device, it syncs up with "Kinectimals" and the animal in the game moves along with the plush toy.

Microsoft Senior VP-Marketing Mich Mathews demonstrated the BK game onstage at the Cannes Lions event in 2010. She had a little trouble with the scanning. In an interview, she said that while there's still plenty of room to figure out what can be done with sensors that recognize speech, scan a tag or recognize motion, Microsoft is a go for this brave new world. "It's obviously early days with figuring out what are the new ideas, new approaches that we can take with this," Ms. Mathews said. "But it's certainly what our advertising team [is doing] and the portfolio of things that we sell now."

Even though Kinect is the most popular and most recent device to use the motion-tracking and 3-D grid technology, it can and has been used outside of Kinect, most simply with users' webcams. AT&T and Nestle have done initiatives using this technology, which is also referred to as augmented reality and created by shops such as Zugara. Nestle tapped the company to create two motion-capture campaigns -- presented as games and appearing on the brands' websites as well as Facebook. One was the "Nesquick Factory," where users "worked" filling bottles of the drink. The second Nestle motion-capture campaign was for JuicyJuice.

The AT&T campaign was a soccer game that ran inside an AT&T banner ad on ESPN.com during World Cup 2010 that let players head-butt a soccer ball from "inside" their webcam image into a goal.

Mr. Szymczyk said he's been working on these kinds of projects since 2009 but with Kinect's fast adoption rate by consumers, advertisers can start to get more comfortable with the idea of motion capture and augmented reality in brand campaigns. "It takes some time for brands to adopt new technology but as Kinect further advances the natural user interface, advertisers will have innovative opportunities where consumers can interact with brands in ways not imagined before," he said.

As of January, 8 million Kinect devices have been sold since November's launch -- well above Microsoft's original goal to sell 5 million units in 2010. So in barely two months, it's clear consumers have bought into the fun of motion tracking. Moreover, the Xbox itself is a decade old and has established itself as a solid advertising platform with great return on investment, especially with the advent of the Xbox Live community online.

Some of the potential pitfalls of getting advertising inside Kinect? First, the brand has to talk it over with Microsoft and get the concept approved, and second, the brand has to find a developer that can build it. While Kinect has been open to some developers certified by Microsoft, many have begun to hack Kinect for whatever uses they like.

None of the motion-capture campaigns is revolutionary in what it has done with the technology -- the interaction between the consumer and the brand is rudimentary at best. But looking ahead, advertisers and technologist see real uses and real opportunities. Part of motion tracking and Kinect's ability is to have a 3-D grid of the room that the person is in. "So you're able to navigate throughout that room, and if you have a catalog of some furniture maker like Ikea, and you can pick out their pieces and move them around and change colors," said Ohad Shvueli, head of marketing for PrimeSense, a company that contributed to the Kinect technology. "So think of how much more effective and interactive the e-commerce experience becomes."

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