Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Telepresence and Advertising: Short Term Gimmick, Possible Long Term Opportunity

Telepresence robots have long been the domain of the back of the business section news article, covering various advancements made by Cisco and others in creating a viable robotic solution to working from home but being in the office. More often than not however, the reality of such solutions has been derided over adopted, as in sitcoms such as the ‘Big Bang Theory’. While guiding a robot around the office and video conferencing on the fly may not be common place, or even free from ridicule, the technology has recently been implemented in two interesting advertising campaigns by San Pellegrino and Coca-Cola Israel. 

San Pellegrino’s ‘3 Minutes in Italy’ campaign utilized telepresence robots to allow Facebook users to control a sandwich boarded and branded robot as they explore the village of Taormina in Sicily. Users were able to interact with locals through video conference, with audio being automatically translated, as they were given a guided tour of the city. The campaign also offered live video from a drone of the city from the sky, but clearly the main attraction here was the ability to interact with the locals. The campaign, while arguably limiting its scale, used telepresence to bring to life the Italian brand values conveyed by San Pellegrino in a novel and engaging way. 

Coca-Cola Israel recently deployed similar technology to allow Israeli teenagers to attend their ‘Summer of Love’ festival when not able to go in person. The robots were similar in set-up to San Pellegrino’s campaign, but allowed users to travel around the music festival, interact with festival-goers and watch bands. The campaign generated PR coverage for both the festival and the brand in a way that extended the technology’s use. 

For both campaigns, the issue of scalability quickly relegates the use of telepresence to a gimmick on first look, despite the possibility for earned media and PR amplification. Though scalability isn’t likely to be overcome in any use of telepresence advertising, campaigns such as San Pellegrino highlight the opportunities for long-term use over more tactical activations such as Coca-Cola. Using robots to bring consumers to the home of San Pellegrino, if only for a limited campaign this time, highlights how brand values can be brought to life through this novel experience for web users in longer ways. Going forward, similar technology could be used to bring other destinations to life consistently, from luxury car factories for perspective buyers online or in dealership, to possible hotel guests examining a resort, with scale coming from long term consistent usage of the tech. Any brand with a location to bring to life, and the time to organize a feasible amount of engagement, could consider a possible telepresence solution. So while cowboy hat wearing robots might not be ferrying Jack Daniel's enthusiasts around Lynchburg anytime soon, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

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