Watch This Space: Smart Ads for Smart Watches

Louis Huglin in Advertising

in Advertising

The imminent arrival of the Apple Watch has finally been announced – a mere 50 years after the Thunderbirds’ watch-phones first appeared on our TV screens. As with smart phones a decade ago, it is thought that Apple’s long-anticipated entrant signals the coming-of-age of this burgeoning market.

What do smart watches mean for advertisers?

Smart watch advertising will be a whole new ball game for advertisers and agencies. Marketing strategy on TV and online, and even on smartphones, has been able to stick to the central tenet that content is king. While content will remain important, smart watch advertisers will have to be very careful with how they try to reach consumers.

Smart watches will be physically attached to their users. The device is perhaps more intimate than any tech seen before; it bridges the gap between utility and fashion, connecting the everyday communications device with the wearable tech market. This intimacy will need to be respected by advertisers. A sure-fire way to irritate, rather than intrigue, an audience is to attach to them a device that is constantly pushing ads. Smart watch marketing will need to be subtle to be effective.

New opportunities with data

The technology offers plenty of scope for soft, but incredibly accurate, advertising. We are told that the Apple Watch will be able to track our movement, record our workouts, and even assess how often and for how long we sit or stand. Apple promises a true marriage of technology, achieving these results by combining the latest in GPS and WiFi tech with heart rate sensors and even an accelerometer. Other smart watches on the market boast the ability to monitor (and, over time, even interpret) a user’s pattern and tone of speech, heart rate and respiration patterns. Data will no longer be just keywords and demographics – it will quite literally be hearts and minds.

The data that these watches can potentially collect represents a new opportunity for advertisers; those in the programmatic space should be particularly excited. This data, provided always that its collection and use is in accordance with the law, could dramatically improve audience targeting. A health drinks company might, for example, currently target its campaigns at 18-40 year old professionals living in major cities; it could now push notifications to smart watches when the wearer’s heart rate is coming down after a workout. A bedding company could track when users are having trouble sleeping and suggest that they might need a new mattress or pillow. The first sector already looking to exploit the smart watch is the fitness industry – given the ease of access to heart rate and movement information it is easy to see why. But it won’t end there. This is a brave new world for adtech with as-yet unknown possibilities.

Apple hasn’t yet given any indication of its smart watch privacy policy; it will be interesting to see how it proposes to manage the inevitable data issues. While data protection attitudes in the USA tend to be more relaxed than in Europe, US regulators are very careful around personal data related to the data subject’s health. There can be no doubt advertisers will push the boundaries, and serious questions are already be asked around privacy (see, for example, recent CBS and Sci-Tech Today articles on this point).


At this early stage however, advertisers will be more concerned with exploiting new opportunities than with regulation. The temptation will be to transfer existing content and campaigns to people’s wrists; this will be ineffective. The winners in the watch-space race will be those who use the new technology to subtly target their audience more intelligently than ever before.

Watch This Space: Smart Ads for Smart Watches was last modified: March 12th, 2015 by Louis Huglin