We're already wearing wearable tech – and that's good news for marketers

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor at 23red, former IPA director general, and has had five successful business books published. With an agency career spanning 26 years, he’s worked on more than 50 brands.

There’s a lot of talk about the coming era of ‘wearable tech’, but aren’t we already in it?

Ofcom reports that at least 92 per cent of adults in the UK now own a mobile phone, and 175bn text messages are sent each year. Public demand for smartphones has also increased massively with 56 per cent of adults now owning one. This figure is up from 27 per cent in 2011, and just over half of all consumers now access the internet on their mobiles, causing data usage to double in a year.

Smart Insights cites ComScore and Morgan Stanley research showing that globally mobiles have surpassed desktop computers in number of users.

Not only do people have mobiles – which I would argue are a form of wearable tech – they’re addicted to them. Research carried out by marketing agency Tecmark in October 2014 discovered that the average user picks up their phone more than 1,500 times a week and uses this device for three hours and sixteen minutes each day – or the equivalent of almost one full day a week. In restaurants it’s commonplace to see situations where people are more preoccupied with their phones than conversing with each other.

Source: Babycakes Romero, 2015

While traditionalists may lament this trend, it’s clearly here to stay. Especially when apps like Tinder can often make the mobile interaction rather more exciting than what’s happening at the table.

From the marketer's point of view, this mobile revolution is very exciting. It enables brands and causes to communicate with customers and citizens very close to the point of purchase or decision. As the most recent Ofcom data shows, the smartphone is the key channel when people are out-of-home.

Devices used to go online: at home or out and about, 2014 (% of UK adults)

Source: Ofcom ‘Adults’ media use and attitudes’ Report 2015

The growing importance of smartphones is reinforced by data from Litmus showing where emails are being opened. There’s been a dramatic increase in mobile opening from 8 per cent in 2011 to 48 per cent currently.

And it’s likely that smartphones’ utility as ‘wearable tech’ is going to go from strength to strength as ‘app plus gadget’ bundles proliferate and make them increasingly helpful to users, whether it be in managing finances on the go, or in making the ‘quantified self’ a daily reality. Digifit and its suite of accessories are a good example.

According to the IAB/PwC, mobile advertising now accounts for 23 per cent of all digital advertising spend – up from 16 per cent in 2013 with an increasing proportion being video. Of this, 32 per cent is display advertising with ‘content’ and ‘native advertising’ now accounting for 22 per cent of it. However, non-display advertising still accounts for 68 per cent of spend and deploying coupons is a vital part of the brand’s communications armoury.

But digital behaviour change can also be achieved by non-financial means. For example the ‘ice bucket challenge’ was spread virally and over $100m was raised for the ALSA charity. TechCrunch suggests the key to its success was that it took a simple formula for viral content creation, ie. a short video where users can insert their own variables into the equation, which could then be replicated with minimal production skill. The ice bucket challenge added the charitable request as part of its easily reproducible format, which injected rocket fuel into the idea.

While we don’t have the precise proportion of the viral spreading accounted for by mobiles, it’s likely to have been significant as 24 per cent of time spent on mobiles and tablets is on social media according to Flurry. Indeed, its data shows that 82 per cent of mobile time is spent in apps and as Flurry put its: “It’s an app world. The web just lives in it.” This has huge importance for marketers and the types of content with which they communicate with customers.

There’s a confusing series of terms describing it, but there’s no doubt the area of branded content (aka ‘native’ advertising, online advertorial, digital PR, sponsored content etc) is booming. According to a recent eMarketer report, spending on native ads on social sites alone is expected to increase from $3.1bn to $5bn by 2017. The online environment enables the line between advertising and editorial to be blurred and there have been recent ASA rulings as a result – for example Mondelez and most recently P&G.

It’s likely that clearer identification of ‘content’ as commercial communication, or ‘advertorial’ will become the norm, and this means that it will need to have greater creative merit in order to engage people. There’s a great opportunity for marketers who are impatient with thematic, long-term brand-building content and want customers to act now prompted by digital communication. However they may struggle to find content creators who don’t aspire to make feature films and treat a brand’s commercial video as a rehearsal for Hollywood.

We need a new breed of creativity which produces and distributes action-oriented branded content into the media flow close to the point of purchase or behavioural decision. And of course mobile is the idea channel for this – it’s ‘wearable tech’.

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor to 23 Red

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