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It's a mad world

Every now and then you need to do something utterly mad, outrageous and fun otherwise you will go MAD yourself. For years experiential concepts have given creators permission to connect in ways which are just fabulous but often somewhat uncommercial. Hooray for that. Today we are going to cut loose and enjoy the work of retailers who have made more interesting connections between their brands and shoppers.

The North Face

All credit to The North Face and their marketing agency in South Korea for an incredible stunt. Unsuspecting shoppers browsing in store had to kick start their survival instincts as they were put to a very physical test. As racks of clothing started to rise to the ceiling, the floor below them gave way, forcing shoppers to hang on to rock-climbing holds or fall into a padded pit. As a timer ticked, a North Face jacket attached to the ceiling dropped, the shoppers needed to leap and snatch it. Some people succeeded. Others failed dismally. The resulting video footage is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. And totally supports the brand’s motto, “Never Stop Exploring.”

Caribour Coffee Co

Caribour Coffee Co in the US introduced their new breakfast sandwiches by turning bus shelters into heated toaster ovens and promptly gave whole new meaning to generating “warm fuzzies.” Standing inside the shelter you could actually feel the warmth.

Based in Minneapolis, where it’s a smidge cold, these glowing ceiling coils not only raised brand awareness a few degrees but the bus shelters themselves were hotly demanded by residents in communities throughout the US.

Amazon’s New Dash Button – time to rush out and get one?

Amazon chose 1 April 2015 to launch the Dash Button and I for one thought I was clever in picking it as an April Fool’s joke. But this thing is no joke. It’s the first step in a very interesting direction I believe people refer to as the internet of things.

These small slightly ugly looking devices are available to Amazon customers in the US so they can press to reorder frequently purchased items. Wi-Fi simply and seamlessly transmits their order to their Amazon account. There were 18 brand partners at launch for things such as washing powder, dishwasher tablets and coffee capsules. Place near the produce you use and press when you run low.

Amazon did their homework. It’s childproof – press it as many times as you like but only one order will go through. Also great for those of us who are convinced we have early onset Alzheimer’s and can’t remember if we pressed it or not. And it’s all about the seamless future - building behaviour and relationship with both shoppers and appliance providers so that demand will grow to have it built-in to future appliances.

It’s an interesting concept but it doesn’t solve my consumer pain point, namely the 10.30pm realisation that you are out of bread, milk and bananas and there is breakfast to be had in the morning and lunches to be packed. If only I could press a button and “shazam” my household needs were restored to order.

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OK it doesn’t deliver breakfast but I have fond memories of the 80’s cartoon Shazam; how the characters put their rings together and “shazam” the giant genie arrived to help save the day (maybe my breakfast and lunch dilemma’s). And today Shazam is one of my most favourite apps and it appears 100 million other active users would agree.

Not one of them? It’s an audio recognition app which figures out the name of a song and artist which is playing. It is simply genius and I would encourage you to download it and press that blue button even just once for the experience. Shazam is expanding into retail and this is where the excitement really begins.

Details are sketchy but I have found a video that demonstrates how it could be applied in retail. No doubt it will go further as the ideas are endless as to how the “blue button” can enable dialogue, content and conversation around a brand or product. Imagine revealing provenance, recipes, nutritional facts and product matching at the point of purchase.

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Depth and breadth of knowledge beyond our wildest dreams

I had a surreal experience last year when I visited the Westfield Lab in San Francisco. This digital lab is focused on innovating the retail experience through social, media, mobile and digital opportunities that connect the digital shopper with the physical world. As we entered the lab a wee robot motored over and welcomed us and then turned to show us to the room for our presentation. Very “The Jetsons” I was waiting for Astro the puppy to come bounding out. But this Westfield experiment is delivering a deep, relevant and in-time experience for shoppers needing advice or information.

Trials are well advanced – just take a look Lowe’s (like Mitre 10 Mega but bigger and better) progress with their OSHbot.

The robots help customers navigate stores by directing them to specific products and providing real-time information about product promotions and stock levels. OSHbots will very soon be able to communicate with customers in multiple languages and remotely connect with expert employees at other stores to answer specific project questions.

OSHbot scans and identifies an object held in front of their 3D sensing camera, and can provide product information and guidance to its location in store.

While OSHbot’s forward-facing digital screen is used for customer interaction, its rear-facing digital screen displays relevant in-store information and product promotions.

OSHbot provides additional support for store employees by helping customers with simple questions, freeing the staff up to focus on delivering project expertise.

At times it’s an utterly mad, mad world subsumed by the rate of technological change and the impact this has on physical experiences. But what I love about each of these mad innovations is the undeniably clear and focused desire to enhance the customer experience. Genius.

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