When the iPhone was unveiled in 2007, the way in which we talked to, texted and emailed each other changed almost immediately. Connectivity was suddenly enjoyable, well designed and easy. At that point in time, how many of us would have believed that this small device--less than a tenth of the size of even the smallest desktop screen--would be the device so many of us would come to use so often to consume content and communicate? Consider now that 50 million people in the U.S. watch video on their mobile phones, and mobile advertising in the U.S. is set to eclipse $40 billion in the next few years.

Compare the iPhone phenomenon with this week's news that Apple sold 1 million Apple Watches in pre-sale during its first 24 hours on the market--it took 74 days (a little over 2 months) for Apple to sell 1 million iPhones in 2007. How will the Apple Watch and wearables like it change the way we, as consumers, operate and function?

Many are approaching wearables with much of the same skepticism that originally surrounded smartphones.

How could a screen that small be useful for anything? What content could possibly be consumed on a 38mm screen?

As consumers await the arrival of the Apple Watch in stores later this month, the question being asked today by major advertisers, publishers, application developers and the analysts who cover every move the company makes is what role will advertising have in the world of wearables? Will advertising fuel the growth of the sector as it did for the app economy? Are we looking at yet another evolutionary shift in consumer engagement? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding 'yes', for a few very powerful reasons:

Location, location, location

Look at the different devices you use and how they move with you. Your laptop likely stays on your desk (your base for work), your phone on the other hand is likely positioned by you where you need it--on your desk sometimes, in your pocket or bag when you're on the move, or maybe in a different room when you're having dinner or watching TV.

Your watch, however, goes absolutely everywhere you do--the restroom, the gym, your morning run, shopping, and it's there even when you're sleeping. When you're on the go you may sometimes forget your phone, but it's hard to forget your watch when it's strapped to your wrist. Such rich location data is powerful for advertisers.

Stores could leverage previous shopping data to prompt consumers towards a portion of the store that needs more foot traffic or is home to higher priced goods, or specifically encourage someone back to the Curved 4k HDTV aisle where offline data confirms the item of interest never made its way to the cash register on a previous visit (or better yet, 'here's a 10% coupon to purchase that TV via Apple Pay, or Square, by tapping your watch now!').

An intimate device

In Apple's words, the Apple Watch is "...the most personal product we've ever made, because it's the first one designed to be worn." The ability for this device to track your body habits is astounding, collecting around-the-clock bio data: pulse, temperature, calories consumed, steps taken. The watch is a device that can know and monitor human habit more closely than any other device has the ability to. How does health data come into play here for an advertiser? The data that tracks how sedentary you've become in recent weeks could be used to help you find the nearest gym or running club that could get you back on track with your fitness goals. Bio data being shared with advertisers is not something consumers have been widely exposed to so far, but the potential for this device to help you live a fitter, healthier life is significant, and actionable bio data for the advertiser unlocks a tremendous opportunity. The value exchange for consumers here is powerful--you're in charge of your data and can use it to influence the experiences you have as a consumer.

Wearable developers must ensure that this extremely personable data is safely protected, and only at the explicit consent of the user will anyone have access to it. Similarly, it's incumbent on the brand to build an environment in which users gladly share bio data to receive a better advertising experience. I cannot stress this enough: brands must create a value exchange so compelling and so safe in order to get access to such personal data on such a personal device.

Completing the consumer funnel: putting the consumer first

The ability for a watch to become the principal device in consumer engagement and purchase is significant. Alerts that trigger immediate notification (imagine the time it takes for you to simply turn and look at your wrist as opposed to find and unlock your phone) allow for instantaneous engagement or dismissal--swipe to save or discard, or tap to read. The potential ease of purchase with wearables also creates an immediate consumer path to purchase--streamlining the way for consumers to select and buy the things they want. Advertisers engaging and influencing consumers at this critical juncture of the engagement funnel is a zenith point for marketers and a game-changer for the ad industry.

To quote Jonathan Ive when the Apple Watch was unveiled: "...creating beautiful objects that are as simple and pure as they are functional, well, that's always been our goal at Apple." This is what the Apple Watch and future wearables are all about, and the truth is that advertising needs to align with this philosophy to fully realize the opportunity. Advertisements on the Apple Watch and other wearables will need to be beautiful, simple and functional.

As with any new device, the experience needs to be flawless to create stickability and engagement. Only then can the advertising experience on a wearable device be an additive--not an interruptive--experience, and ultimately a powerful new screen for the marketer.

Published on: Apr 24, 2015