Apple Watch Could Be Marketers’ Ultimate Online-To-Offline Bridge

The point-of-sale, out-of-home aspects are clear, but don’t expect to see any smart-watch ad networks on CEO Tim Cook's watch.

Apple Watch in Whole Foods
Apple Watch in Whole Foods

Time stood still for a large swath of people working in tech, media, and advertising, as the Apple Watch got its major unveiling on Monday and with it, a large step in the consideration of the Internet of Things as a marketing platform.

The excitement over Apple’s entry into IoT and wearables will go up and down in between now and April 10, when the devices — which in three basic forms are priced from $349 to over $10,000 — hit the Cupertino company’s retail and online shops. And while it’s far too early to call the Apple Watch a hit or a miss, it’s safe to say that consumer attention for such connected devices will not be going back to where it was.

Initially, the Apple Watch drew some dismissals because of the device’s almost complete need to be tethered by Bluetooth to an owner’s iPhone. But the primary takeaway from Apple VP of Tech Kevin Lynch’s presentation during Monday’s live demo was that the actual physical act of taking out an iPhone will be diminished in place of the Apple Watch’s functions.

Getting More Personal

The point was driven home in a presentation with very clear mentions of brand names: Lynch showed that Apple Watch users would be less apt to pull out their iPhones to make payments at Whole Foods, call an Uber, produce their American Airlines boarding pass, check The Weather Channel for the temperature, find out a song on Shazam, or even enter their room at a Starwood Hotel.

“Smartphones, until now, were the most personal devices we owned,” said Frederic Bonn, executive creative director, J. Walter Thompson New York. “The Apple Watch is getting even more personal, to the point of intimate, being a device one might literally keep on the wrist at all times, allowing it to capture an incredible amount of personal data. So more than ever, brands need to create experiences — from entertainment to utility — that are truly valuable to people in order to earn the right to get a presence on the device.”

apple watch activityApple’s penchant for tight control on the kinds of experiences advertisers and developers can create across its devices will certainly force brands to earn their place on Apple Watch, as Bonn noted.

So when it comes to the question of whether the Apple Watch — or other premium smart-watches — will become just another venue for “pray-and-spray” mobile banner ads and ad networks, the answer is likely to be a resounding “No.” The limitations of the watch’s screen-size — which runs from 38-to-42 millimeters — alone will force greater creativity from brands, said Greg Kahn, CEO of GK Digital Media, an advisory firm focused largely on IoT.

“I hope we’re not going to see some version of an ad network coming to smart-watches generally, and I think the Apple Watch will have considerable influence on how brands approach the space,” Kahn said. “If anything, the advertising will be directed from the watch to the smartphone, the desktop, and ultimately, the TV and the connected home. Is there a play for out-of-home and point-of-sale? Absolutely. The media potential is actually pretty enormous here.”

Still, despite the lineup of brands featured during Lynch’s presentation, marketers and media companies will have at least a year or two to figure out substantive ways to connect with consumers on smart-watches, Kahn hastened to add. But the time to think about it is now.

“There will be careful consideration for how are people are using the Apple Watch and how brands can be part of it without being intrusive,” Kahn added.

He was particularly struck by the way the Apple Watch event was used to highlight separate Apple products for the first hour of the event, particularly a new MacBook Air and a deal that will allow Apple TV owners to subscribe directly to streams of HBO programming for $14.99 a month. (That seemingly cord-cutting arrangement is exclusive to Apple for just three months, at which point other streaming services, such as the ones run by many cable companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision, could offer the HBO Now app, as it’s called, soon after.)

Old Media meets Newest Media?
Old Media meets Newest Media?

“I don’t think people are going to click on video ads on their Apple Watches,” Kahn said. “But I can see the watch as having a trigger to view an ad later. Someone who sees a unique car on the road may prompt [Apple’s built-in digital assistant] Siri on their Apple Watch to make a note of that car. Then, when he or she gets home, that person may call up the earlier note and watch longer-form content about that car on a larger screen.

“This is a new kind of time-shifted scenario TV networks, digital content companies, and advertisers need to think about,” he continued. “Will consumers use smart watches in conjunction with their televisions for an enhanced experience?”

In any case, Bonn cautions marketers about getting too far out ahead of the public, especially when it comes to an item like the Apple Watch, which despite all the emphasis about it being a simple utility, will remain an aspirational product for some years to come.

“I am sure some people in the top 1 percent will get the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition in 18 karat gold,” Bonn said. “The problem for Apple is that luxury is timeless, while technology constantly evolves. Two years from now, watch your $10K purchase run incredibly sluggishly after the latest iOS update, just as my two year old iPad mini became barely usable after I updated it to iOS 8.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.