2/9/2013: I recently read an aricle from James McQuivey, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. His bio lists him as "the leading analyst tracking the development of digital disruption." The article really fascinated me, describing the new "Freestyle PUSH! + Play" app from Coca-Cola. The app currently has somewhat limited functionality - it helps users find a Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machine near them. However, McQuivey theorizes that Coke will shortly turn the app into a data gold mine, among other things.
According to McQuivey, "When Coke figures out what it's sitting on, it will expand the app to let you pre-mix your soda on your phone, save your drink mix preferences and share them with friends. Ultimately the app will invite you to queue up your drink using your phone while you wait in line to order a burger with extra pickles. Why would you do that? Because Coke will pay you in My Coke Rewards for using the app, building a digital relationship with you at the point of sale. For the first time in history, the company will learn what you drink, where you eat, how much and how often you consume. All of this teaches the company far more about you than a points-redemption promotion ever will and also permits it to dynamically target you with mobile messages you are more likely to appreciate."
McQuivey continues to the part that I found particularly awesome and scarily stuffed with potential: "Now connect the final dots – imagine if you could earn My Coke Rewards for watching the game with your app running. The app would use the microphone to verify that you saw the ads, during which it would trigger invitations to interact with the ad storyline, in this case, prompting a vote for the CokeCowboys or CokeShowgirls. Not only would this be the most engaging TV ad experience yet attempted, it would tie the ad experience to the viewer's historical and future Freestyle purchases."
This would clearly be a pretty incredible achievement if it does come to fruition in the manner in which McQuivey is predicting. The marriage between traditional media and real-world rewards (facilitated through digital channels) carries simply enormous potential. To users and consumers, the engagement now actually has corporeal rewards, not just the potential thrill of being involved to a decimal-point degree in a Super Bowl ad. The amount of data that can be pulled from a platform like this would be phenomenal, allowing Coca-Cola to truly tailor their advertising to individual users, and it could also provide excellent data for other business decisions.
But I want to take McQuivey's idea even a step further than he did. What happens when this app has such use that it can actually begin to impact media vendors on days other than the Super Bowl? Think about it for a moment: What if Coke begins purchasing dayparts from local cable providers during primetime programming or popular local sports broadcasts, and then informs its app users that they can tune in to [program name here] or potentially as specific as at [commercial break time] to earn rewards through the app? The implications there are huge, too, and could potentially reach further than Coke's own brand.
For Coke itself, at the point they have enough data to justify the pull that its app has, it can actually go back to the networks and leverage the app's rewards-fueled usership, saying, "Look guys, our app gets people to tune into your programming. Cut us a break on the media buy." This could cut media costs for Coca-Cola and generate a lot of positive buzz around the brand. And let's think about the Super Bowl again...Does the inventory that immediately follows a Coke ad suddenly become more valuable because of the added audience for the soft drink's ad? Certainly some of the augmented audience for Coke's spot would carry over to the next commercial in line, so couldn't CBS, NBC, or whomever has the rights to the Super Bowl at that point earn even more by riding this Coke app's coattails?
Bear in mind that a lot of this is fantasy, and relies heavily on user adoption and a lot of people seeing things the same way I do. Coke's executives are likely a little more seasoned than I am anyway, so for all I know, I'm heralding a concept they've already dreamed and decided against. But ask yourself...Is this vision so far fetched? Everything is technologically feasible...all it takes is a brand to take a giant leap and say "let's do it."