Fifteen thousand people attended the July Fourth fireworks at Butler County Fairgrounds. They were packed together and had to occupy themselves for hours as they waited for dusk. They talked to strangers, played euchre, and fiddled with their smartphones.
REI wanted to advertise or sell to these 15,000 attendees.
The company considered buying targeted ads on YouTube to interrupt a few poor guys trying to watch movie trailers on their phones. Then they weighed using MediaBrix’s engine to slip commercials into mobile games. In this case, REI would have paid for the opportunity to offer a mobile gamer an extra life after all of his ran out. To earn the bonus life, a gamer would only have to watch a 30-second commercial. It’s a smart advertising channel.
However, by targeting individual gamers with MediaBrix, REI would have ignored a conspicuous opportunity at the fairgrounds. REI had a captive audience there: 15,000 people sitting together in a shared physical space without a damn thing to do. So what was REI’s play?
Build a video game to engage the crowd.
REI wanted badly to get on casual cyclists’ radars and to link its brand to cycling culture in consumers’ minds. So a bicycle-racing game was perfect. Each player controlled a cycle with his or her iPhone. Not everyone in the crowd liked racing games– many had no interest in playing. But the race was eye-candy for sidelined spectators too, and the dazzling exhibition provoked both spectators and players to associate high-performance cycling with REI. That was a big win for REI.
Using GPS coordinates to anchor digital set pieces, developers had mapped REI’s virtual bicycle track onto the real physical space above the crowd. That meant that anyone with a mobile device could download an app to enjoy the show. iPhones were magic lenses that revealed a persistent digital layer over the real world. A dozen oddballs brought their Magic Leaps or Hololenses out to the fairgrounds to enjoy a highly immersive experience. Their friends lined up to glimpse REI’s spectacle in the sky through a Magic Leap.
What did this cost REI?
REI worked with a third-party developer to build one racing game. After testing, they deployed it across the country. The game entertained crowds at almost 1200 fairgrounds on July Fourth, and REI plans for its appearance at select baseball stadiums and other outdoor venues through the rest of the month.
Setting up virtual race tracks like the one at Butler Fairgrounds was as easy as inputting GPS coordinates into the game’s code. REI personnel and their game studio partners did this remotely. It’s unbelievable how little it cost to scale these games from one instance to 1200 instances. REI acknowledged that they could theoretically anchor a racing game in the sky over every parking lot in the country. Of course, doing so would turn these events into white noise, and everyone would tune them out.
The next puzzle was getting folks at Butler Fair to point their iPhones skyward and tune into REI’s frequency, so to speak.
REI’s racing game works with the free SHiFT app (which powers dozens of similar AR games fixed to their own GPS coordinates). Those with the app installed get notified within 500 feet of an AR event like this one. Also, unlike QR codes, this tech is cool and conversation-worthy, so modest social media buzz roused the first few bloggers and redditers. They were the first adopters on-site, and people sitting near them saw them pointing their phones at an invisible target in the sky. Kids sitting near them followed suit, and thus the crowd was soon peppered with people emulating their neighbors and pointing their iPhones skyward while tuning into REI’s racing game.
Meanwhile, Sony also was hosting a massive multiplayer tower defense game for the fairgoers, and indie developers had a few notable AR events to show the crowd. The SHiFT app carefully curates its library of AR events, with strict guidelines for high production-value and low vulgarity/indecency.
REI’s racing game was a success, and it pulled positive reviews across Twitter and Facebook. Yet, the company fears that another AR engine, a competitor to the well-curated SHiFT app, will hit the app store and will litter the skies with garbage AR events. An overzealous indie developer might actually plant instances of their game in the sky above every parking lot in the U.S. That’s why curating, ranking, or featuring quality content matters to SHiFT’s team.
Brands don’t seem concerned. There’s a lot of garbage to sift through on Pinterest and YouTube too, but cream rises. Brands with the resources to hire the right artists can really create head-turning games or events that scale. That’s good news for fairgoers passing the time while waiting for the fireworks to get started.
This futuristic experience is currently possible on iPhone 4 and later. Only, the software hasn’t yet been created. Expect a hardware-agnostic engine like SHiFT to reach the app store in the next two years, especially if Magic Leap and Hololens find widespread adoption.
I want to see a line of healthy, organic peanut butter in sensual and sinful packaging. What if a health brand was disguised as a guilty pleasure?
I want to see an interactive digital in-store display that shows my face mapped over the head of a digital figure wearing Google Glass or Apple Watch. What if retail displays were interactive and personalized?
I want to see eye-tracking technology integrated with retail displays. Working on this now.
I want to see a service provide guided tours through national parks for the UHNW individuals. If an oil tycoon wants to go climbing, he contacts an expert climber for one-on-one lessons. But whom does he call if he wants a guided tour to the top of Half Dome?
I want to see a service that helps retirees reach hard-to-reach places in the world’s most phenomenal landscapes.
I want to see a series of competitions that unlock the artistic creativity of retired baby boomer engineers (currently researching this!)
I want to see an affordable idli bar (light, healthy steamed Indian snacks, quick and cheap to make) with colorful dipping sauces. Follow the business model of Vanessa’s Dumpling House. Decorate the interior with chic, clean early-century industrial.
I want to see …
Okay, talk minus action equals shit. I’m turning this franchise around and bringing some concepts to life. As that happens, you’ll see my blog posts appear less frequently. I enjoy posting on my blog and appreciate all of you who have shown support. But now it’s time to work.
The best stuff won’t surface on here until it’s out in the real breathing world.
The most remarkable part of this environment can’t be shown with a still image. As you approach the back shelves, discreet cameras track your eyes’ movements. When you look at a shelf, sophisticated software detects the object of your gaze and lights glow around that shelf. When your eyes drift left, the computer tracking your pupils dims the light on the last object of your attention and illuminates the next. The computer reacts so quickly to your moving pupils that light seems to follow your eyes in real time.
This system can track the eyes of only two people at a time, and the viewer has to be within a certain range for the system to work.
Tobii is working on this. It’s called passive eye-tracking, and it should be ready in 12 months or less.
I took a risk. Next to futuristic curves and lights fit for Tron, I set the sort of cobblestone you’d see along the slim alleys of a Spanish Mission. Look at all the mix and match you get away with when you keep the palette monochromatic. Baby blue!