ad:tech San Francisco recap

logo_adtech_sfOn Tuesday April 15, I had the opportunity to attend my first ad:tech event, and speak on one of the Power Panels (Tales from the Bleeding Edge – Game-Changing Opportunities for Tomorrow’s Marketer).

Ad:tech is an interactive advertising and technology conference and exhibition. They do a number of events each year at a variety of international venues. The primary attendees are brands, agencies, publishers, portals, and service providers.

I’m not sure if it’s the intention, but the bulk of exhibitors and content are primarily focused on web based activities (media buying, search, e-mail marketing, web analytics, affiliate marketing, blogging, etc…). There is not (yet) much of a presence for Digital Out of Home, much less retail environment specific content.

Obviously, their oversight willingness to let me in, shows they have some interest in retail. The exhibit floor has about 300 exhibitors, mainly with 10×10 or 10×20 booths. The anchor exhibitors were Yahoo and Google. It felt like the overwhelming majority of exhibitors were focused on some element of the web advertisement delivery supply chain.


The only Out of Home or Retail focused exhibitor was SeeSaw Networks. SeeSaw is a what I like to call a network aggregator for DOOH advertisers. Meaning, they allow an advertiser to buy spots that play across multiple DOOH networks. They also partner with LocaModa to do some interesting marketing campaigns to mobile handsets.

As for my panel, I found my fellow panelists pretty interesting. Our moderator was Lori Schwartz for the Interpublic Groups Media Lab (I’m looking forward to visiting her lab in Los Angeles next week).

After Lori introduced us, I led things off talking about state of in-store marketing, and my often repeated opinion that the goal of in-store marketing activities in the store has to be to drive sales and customer satisfaction, not to sell ad space. I shared a few case studies of our work with context sensitive digital signage, RFID based customer affinity, and SKU Activated merchandising. Lori and the audience asked some tough but insightful questions, and hopefully I didn’t stumble too badly. I think the RFID based customer affinity (aka "the Minority Report" style marketing) was most interesting to the audience.

Alan Schulman, the creative director of IMC2 talked about what was new and cool from the perspective of an interactive agency (Alan was quick to point out that IMC2 is the largest still independent interactive agency out there). He showed a case study of the next generation of proximity marketing experiences planned for deployment in New York City taxi cabs.

image Michael Mak, demonstrated bCODEs kiosk/scanner for optically reading a text message from a standard cell phone. This allows a marketer to SMS a textbased eCoupon to a consumers phone, and then the consumer can redeem it in a store by holding their phone up to a kiosk. I’m a big fan of using a mobile phone (or other consumer owned device) as the "physical cookie" in retail stores. At the moment, bCODE has one of the best means of doing so. The minority report style experience we can create with a wireless keyfob is very compelling, but how many consumers will carry a pocket full of electronic tracking devices once the experience really takes off? Clearly consumers need a single device that they already have reason to carry, that lets them opt in to multiple environmental CRM experiences. Obviously an RF based solution would be much preferred to bCODEs optical system but at the moment bCODE is a pretty good cost/experience trade-off.

Last, we had Bruno Uzzan from Total Immersion demo their very cool "Augmented Reality" technology. This was by far the coolest live demo of the four of us, and drew all the oh’s and ah’s from the audience. Basically, they load 3D models of objects into a computer, and plug a video camera into the computer. So for example, Bruno had scanned the physical box that a set of LEGOs comes in, as well as detailed 3D models of the items you can build with the LEGOs inside. When he holds the box in front of the camera, the camera recognizes the box (no mater what angle or orientation), and the computer software superimposes the 3D model on the face of the box and even lets him manipulate the model. So you can imagine setting up a "Magic Mirror" in a LEGO store where kids can grab any box off the shelf, hold the box up to the "mirror" (aka Monitor w/ camera), and see what can be built with those LEGOs. It’s a visually stunning demo. I can clearly see the benefit for large scale presentations and events, but I have mixed feelings about its retail application. I have no doubt that the technology can be used as an effective traffic generating novelty. And I can also see the great benefit to interactive 3D models being used to demonstrate certain products in a retail store. I’m imagining back-yard swing-sets in a toy store that has no room for actual swing-sets, for example. It’s not clear if attaching the 3D model to a physical object and then watching it on a video display is really better than just directly watching the 3D model on the display. I could see it going either way, so I’d certainly want to test it with real shoppers before I made a major commitment of resources. If the price is right, I’d put one in a flagship store without a second thought. This has much more visual impact than say, a MS Surface.

Here’s a few more independent reviews of our panel:

ad:tech blog

My bottom line… if you are in retail or DOOH you can definitely get something out of these shows, but I wouldn’t skip a major retail show to attend ad:tech instead. On the other hand, if you’re looking for some cool IT services and tools to serve up banner ads, you’ve hit the mother load.

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