If you’re among the many marketers trying to grasp the game-changing impact of Xbox’s motion-controlled add-on Kinect, you’re not alone. Even Microsoft didn’t realize what it had on its hands. When launching in November, Microsoft predicted sales of 3 million units by the end of 2010. Instead, the company sold 8 million in two months and recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest-selling consumer electronics product in history. For brands, the excitement is just beginning — and so are the challenges.
In addition to sensing motion, Microsoft’s newest periphery for the Xbox 360 recognizes voices, captures facial expressions in real time, and can even tell players apart. It’s arguably the biggest advance in mainstream digital interface design since the widespread adoption of the computer mouse in the ’80s.
Kinect and its underlying PrimeSense technology promise to open new doors and could explode our conceptions of what’s possible online. Today’s online world remains governed by the conventions of preset hyperlinks and point-and-click devices, but over time, those constraints will be shattered. The popularity of touchscreens on smartphones and tablets suggest we were already headed in this direction. Marketers may play an important role in determining how quickly Kinect technology crosses the chasm from hardcore gamers to mainstream adoption.
The Engagement Potential for Brands
Big brands, including Burger King and Samsung, jumped in first with Kinect gaming promotions. But the marketing potential of Kinect extends far beyond video games. In the near term, marketers could leverage Kinect technology to create eye-opening trade show displays and in-store promotions. Freed from the gaming console, the technology can draw people into an immersive, interactive experience.
Innovative web-based applications will also be worth considering as the technology reaches a critical mass of 15% of households or users, a point at which adoption rates tend to accelerate.
With Avatar Kinect, Microsoft will soon move into augmented social media. Microsoft’s plans for the new technology clearly go beyond gaming. And Kinect’s controller-free environment should appeal to casual gamers, not just the hardcore console jocks, which will heighten appeal for mass marketers. Indeed, the pitch to advertisers from Microsoft is that women, younger children and tweens are “joining in the fun” with Kinect. Most importantly, perhaps, the price is relatively inexpensive; approximately $150.
In the future, it’s conceivable that consumers scanned into the system could theoretically interact with three-dimensional models of products. Why couldn’t Ford, which recently launched an exclusive Xbox campaign for its C-MAX, put consumers behind the wheel and let them take the newest model for a spin?
For catalog clothing brands, the ecommerce implications are immense. Why couldn’t Eddie Bauer let consumers try on clothes virtually? In the travel industry, the applications are even more numerous — a walking tour of the cabanas at Club Med, anyone? And with the capacity to scan an entire room, why couldn’t The Home Depot let customers design the layout of new kitchen cabinets or Ikea showcase sofas within digital models of consumers’ living rooms?
Peak Expectations Meet Practical Challenges
Marketers have tremendous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors in this new environment. Yet they also face the challenge of developing those experiences without instructions or precedents.
Before agencies and developers can create the architecture of this new world — and customized applications for brands — they must first study what makes the new technology tick, which is why developers have been so busy “hacking” Kinect.
The development tools for Kinect are still fairly immature at this stage, but they do provide enough capabilities to build some interesting applications. As more work is done to support these tools by Microsoft and the larger development community, the possibilities for Kinect will grow exponentially.