There's a vast consumer marketing experiment taking place right now.

We don't have furry little noses and whiskers, but we are guinea pigs for a new product launch. And if we flock to the new product and "snap" it up, this method of marketing might become the norm for other companies.

I'm talking about the Snap Spectacles, of course--the trendy sunglasses that let you record 10-second video clips and share them on Snapchat.

This week in New York City, a pop-up vending machine created a spectacle for anyone with a foggy memory about Google Glass and wearable tech. Yes, you have to wait in line. You can only pick from three colors (black, blue, or coral). The glasses cost $129 and come with a carrying case that can withstand a drop onto cold concrete.

And I do mean cold. As Inc. found out by visiting the vending machine, the weather was not exactly sunglasses-friendly, but that didn't stop the line from forming quickly and stretching around the block. The vending machine is in Central Park, not far from an Apple store. Snap has installed similar machines, from which you can buy two pairs of Spectacles at a time, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Grand Canyon, and in Tulsa.

I'm not impressed by the shades, but I am impressed by the marketing effort.

Snap, the company that makes the Snapchat app and Spectacles and is expected to go public next year, has created a massive viral campaign. Ironically, it has two marketing angles. The company has created demand for a product by limiting where you can purchase it. You have to work pretty hard to find the vending machine, stand in line, and swipe your credit card. It puts a unique spin on the "scarcity of resources" economic model developed by Adam Smith about 250 years ago. "The value of a thing is determined by what one is willing to give up to obtain it," to paraphrase him.

The second marketing angle has to do with consumer testing and research. So far, people are going a little nuts for the goggles, which last about a day if you record only 10 videos or so. Back when Google Glass tapped into the Adam Smith model of scarcity and demand by making the glasses available to only a limited number of "explorers" for $1,500 a pair, there was quite a bit of discussion about privacy and public recording of events. I'm wearing a bright blue pair of goofy sunglasses; what possible harm can I cause? Yet, the Spectacles are still designed to record anywhere at any time. You can record a bank robbery if you want, if it lasts 10 seconds.

By limiting how many people can purchase the goggles, Snap is finding out how many people want them and if there is any pushback about recording in public. So far, Spectacles appear to be a raging success, but when they're available at Amazon and Walmart, maybe everyone will start wondering whether they are worth $129.

I'm guessing Snap will turn this into a major success, and here's why. I still don't understand why anyone would use Snapchat, but I'm not supposed to understand the app. I don't understand why anyone would wear sunglasses in New York on a dreary, cold day. It doesn't make sense. But Snap has created massive interest in the product and convinced people that recording videos from your face makes sense, even if you always have to look at what you're recording, there's a limited amount of storage, your "camera" can break or fall off when you look down, and the glasses come in neon blue.

I hope it all works out. If it doesn't, at least we will learn a lot about viral marketing.

Published on: Nov 23, 2016
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of