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Apple Watch to accelerate wave of ‘helpful marketing’ from advertisers and publishers

Words by Natalie Mortimer and Seb Joseph

The Apple Watch launches today (24 April) with a whimper devoid of the usual winding lines around stores seen for new iPhones. However, size doesn’t always matter and the wearable’s smaller launch belies the expectation from consumer and brand alike that it will stimulate sharper contextual services.

That the wearable essentially sold out after the first two hours of online pre-orders is testament to the anticipation for Apple’s newest device. While only a small portion of core demographics are likely to have a watch at launch, the fact that many will have heard of it signals how the resonance of Apple’s brand could thrust wearables into the mainstream.

Brandwatch analysed over one million mentions of Apple Watch between 1 and 20 of April, when there were almost twice as many positive mentions (61,000) as negative posts (27,000). Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the online chatter about the watch stemmed from the technology community with a 17 per cent share, followed by business and sports with 11 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.

For all Apple’s concerto of carefully placed interviews and details shared through “sources”, there is no telling how consumers will use the watch or if it will even take off. Building apps for it may prove lucrative but it’s a massive gamble and one that most marketers aren’t yet willing to take. One in three marketers (32 per cent) are thinking about creating a service for the Apple Watch this year, while almost one in ten (8 per cent) are already making plans to do so, according to a Greenlight survey.

The early adopters like British Airways, the Guardian and BMW see the product as a chance to take personalisation to the next level. Instead of treating the watch as a smaller screen on which to host ads, years of mobile lessons sees them ground upcoming apps in the purpose to serve people with helpful, short interactions via the watch.

Short and sweet interactions from the wearable have whetted Domino’s appetite for it. When asked by The Drum whether it would launch on the Apple Watch, sales and marketing director Simon Wallis gave a resounding, “too bloody right”. While nothing has been signed off, the retailer is interested in bringing its pizza tracker service to peoples’ wrists.

“Surfacing that pizza tracker in a more transparent way, whether that’s on a smart watch or Apple Watch would certainly be an opportunity for us,” added Wallis.

L’Oreal is also eyeing the watch with interest, particularly given Apple’s decision to promote it as a style accessory. The company launched a Google Glass partnership with its Yves Saint Laurent last year whereby consumers who donned the device at make-up counters received a tutorial on how to apply their products that was then sent to them as a personalised video.

Hugh Pile, chief marketing officer for L’Oreal UK, said: “The lovely thing about working for L’Oreal is that it is a super entrepreneurial company, there is enough belief in experimentation and innovation that we can have a crack at something.

“So we do experiment and we have a huge amount of fun with it but what we don’t do is roll it out across the business. I believe if there are exciting opportunities then I am very open to wearable tech opportunities, but we test, learn and then scale.”

Several agencies The Drum has reached out to revealed they didn’t expect their advertisers to commission Apple Watch projects at this time. Brands, especially the bigger ones, will react when there is demand not a product launch, opting not to speculate a need against the watch until there is clear long-term traction.

Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at DigitasLBi, said brand investment on the watch was a question of if rather than when, and mused how upcoming apps could offer “that next level of personalisation”. That next level is “you being able to decide what you think is personal or not,” he continued.

“It means that with any marketing and advertising it is going to be hard to get people not to see your notification or content as an interruption as opposed to something that actually helps them. When it comes to the Apple Watch, marketing needs to be a message at the right time but also with three or four other elements that mean it’s about you rather than people like you.”

The risk sits with information overload and the potential to get frustrated with the demands of the watch. The ‘poke’ nature of the device will be fighting for our attention to engage with small nuggets of information the apps have filtered for us.

Iain Millar, head of innovation at Rufus Leonard, which handles digital for Pizza Express, the AA and Stagecoach, added: “If it isn’t useful to them, don’t do it. But a further filter is that if it’s not smart, if you don’t use the intelligence that’s implicit in that channel – like location, time, the accelerometer – then it’s also probably a negative experience,” he added.

However, developing service experiences solely for the watch would add to a costly mobile heap that already includes smartphones and tablets.

“That makes it three size variants and three information variants wanting to communicate one message,” said Peter Fullager, head of innovation at design consultancy Kinnier Dufort. The downside could be it just makes things more complicated. It is going to be a longer process where brands need to understand the benefit of moving into the smaller, more personal format.”

The smaller format has peaked the interest of publishers despite their well-documented struggles to adapt to the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets. Apple’s watch is too small for reading text or watching videos and so media owners are treating it as an extension of the larger devices, albeit with much less functionality.

It is why the Guardian has built its app around “moments”; short, bespoke and personalised notifications that trickle through the watch throughout the day. From breaking news updates that can be followed in the Guardian’s mobile app to surfaced content tailored to users’ preferences, the publisher wants the device to deliver value in the short bursts of attention people get from a quick glance at the watch.

Tom Grinsted, product manager at the Guardian, said that while there are no plans to sell ads directly on its watch app, there are contextual opportunities to be mined from its role in a myriad of touchpoints. “Context is about more than location,” he said.

“Location up until this point has been used as a shortcut to context but if I’m honest it’s quite a blunt tool. We’re interested in doing something more nuanced and more human that is reflective of how personal our apps and portfolio of products is becoming.”

The Apple Watch is a new media for apps and savvy publishers will connect and coalesce data signals ranging from frequency of use and location to context and behaviour observed in their apps

Mahi de Silva, chief executive of Opera Mediaworks, said these signals will contribute to a better understanding of the consumer, who in turn will see more relevant marketing.

“The Apple Watch will utilise low-power Bluetooth to connect to its companion iPhone, making it more likely that consumers will participate in Bluetooth-enabled technology, including beacons. This single product will ensure that Bluetooth-based beacons will become a reality - driving a whole new world of location-based advertising, tracking and attribution,” he added.

The watch will be the make or break of the category that either accelerates demand across all wearables platforms or set it back 10 years before the next big wave of exploration.