Wearable Computing Offers Promise for Marketers, but Potential Pitfalls as Well

Food Brands Would Also Benefit By Becoming an Enabler of a Healthier Lifestyle

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Throughout the course of a given week, I make heavy use of five devices: a TV, a desktop, a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. Yet none of these has had as much impact on my physical well being as the smallest computer I own -- the only one without a screen.

For the last four months I have been wearing a Nike + FuelBand on my left wrist. The device measures my every move and provides a score that calculates my activity and motivates me to keep it going. With its help, I have shed those pesky "last 10 pounds" that have dogged me since college.

Nike 's FuelBand is just a glimpse of things to come.
Nike + FuelBand is just one of hundreds of wearable devices that will hit the market during the decade. This is why it's virtually certain that the entire category will quickly become a focus for marketers.

Some high-affinity brands will surely follow Nike 's lead in testing the waters with their own devices. Health and fitness brands will be first, but they won't be alone. Food brands, for example, would also benefit by becoming an enabler of a healthier lifestyle.

Others, meanwhile, will wait until open development platforms like Google's forthcoming Project Glass move toward commercialization. Google has said it plans to ship the internet-connected head-mounted display to developers next year with mass-market availability coming sometime mid-decade.

Wearable computing has the power to connect consumers with just-in-time offers that are not only relevant to their needs but to their immediate physical surroundings. In many ways it is even more disruptive and powerful than smartphones because the technology can be used discreetly and seamlessly.

I recently had a chance to try on an early Google Glass prototype. I found it completely unobtrusive. It felt more like having a screen in your right rear-view mirror than in your face. And Google is taking great care to keep the product simple, approachable and -- above all -- useful.

Others, however, may not be as thoughtful. And as millions of consumers begin to wear devices that track their habits in real time, it will invariably create concerns about how all this data -- even as it is anonymized -- is being used.

The time to start this discussion is now.

The advertising community should be proactive in encouraging its leading trade organizations to convene a cross-industry task force that establishes best practices while the technology is still nascent. Such a proactive approach will not only speed consumer adoption but also unlock all kinds of opportunities that benefit everyone. An early consensus will bring great ideas to market.

Waiting, however, will only slow innovation.

Steve Rubel is exec VP-global strategy and insights for Edelman.

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